What We Learned From Our Gratitude Challenge

What are you truly grateful for in your life that enables you to live to your fullest potential?

That wasn’t the question we set out to answer when we took on our gratitude journal challenge for a week. Now that we’ve gone through it, thinking about gratitude in that way is a great way to learn about yourself.

Chris and I like to define gratitude as the recognition of giving thanks. More specifically, giving thanks for specific actions, people, circumstances or feelings that make you feel joy, satisfaction or the ability to be yourself.

What You Can Learn From This Challenge

We decided to take on this challenge as an approach for dealing with our negative thoughts and focusing on the positive in our lives. When you want to make a big change in your life, it’s often easy to get caught in negative thought loops. Recognizing what makes you grateful helps you focus on the positive aspects of your life that you inspire and empower you.

You can also learn about what’s important to you by bringing attention to what makes you feel grateful. If you have no idea what you want to do with your life, taking an inventory of what makes you feel grateful on a daily basis will give you insight into your desires, needs, feelings and motivations.

How to Do This Challenge

Take 5 to 10 minutes each day for a week to reflect on people, moments, experiences or actions that made you feel grateful. We recommend integrating this exercise into your bedtime routine (like before or after you brush your teeth), so you have the opportunity to look back on your entire day while it’s still fresh in your head.

Download the Gratitude Journal Challenge Worksheet

What Stephen Learned

When I sat down to write the first entry in my gratitude challenge I was tempted to give into social pressure to give thanks for the obvious like my family, my health and being alive. They are all things that make me eternally grateful, but I chose to dig a little deeper.

I wanted to challenge myself to recognize specific moments, feelings, actions and circumstances that made me feel grateful. For example, instead of writing that I was grateful for my wife, I wrote about actions she took that made me feel grateful. Here are the five statements her over the course of the week:

  1. Thankful for all my wife’s hard work to keep our driveway clear from 8 feet of snow.
  2. Each time my wife goes to the store, she calls to ask if I need anything.
  3. My wife constantly offering to help me over the last week because of my back sprain.
  4. For the technical expertise of my wife who spent 3 hours trying to hookup our new wireless router.
  5. My wife made a delicious veggie soup for dinner tonight.

I chose to use this challenge not to just give thanks, but to learn about myself and my life. I gave myself the opportunity to make specific observations about the many different ways I am truly grateful for the work my wife does on my behalf. She’s multitalented and I am so lucky to be married to her!

I was also grateful for a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with the people in my life. Initially I felt guilt for doing so, but decided to have faith in my feelings and not to overthink it.

  1. I’m grateful for any amount of sun that touches my skin and I find myself appreciating the light at the end of the day.
  2. For how all the snow has made people more friendly and neighborly.
  3. For having the house all to myself today (although I spent most of my time cleaning it!)
  4. I am grateful for having the time to read so many amazing books about how to learn about yourself. I’m currently reading Emotional Intelligence.
  5. I am grateful to feel so warm that as I walked Ruby I had to take off my hat, scarf and gloves. (Ruby is our dog.)

I realized there are many different things in my life that make me feel grateful. It’s been a rough winter in Boston and I take a little extra time to experience every ray of sunshine that hits my skin. I’ve learn that the weather has a surprisingly large role over my moods.

This challenge expanded my definition of gratitude. It has inspired me to recognize aspects of my life that I have taken for granted, but provide me with a sense of joy and satisfaction. Writing about how I felt grateful for having the house to myself for a day reminds me of my need for quiet time to recharge. It also helped me find satisfaction in my daily achievements by calming my anxious feelings for not having accomplished enough.

When I read over my statements at the end of the week, I also discovered that many of those smaller, overlooked moments and feelings actually say more about me as a person than those big platitudes about gratitude we all seem to make.

I am most grateful for anything that makes me feel comfortable in my own skin, allows me to be who I am or gives me the opportunity to feel joy on my own terms. Sadly, I have taken too many of those things for granted when I should have been showing them my deepest gratitude.

What Chris Learned

I used to think gratitude was a touchy feely thing that was nice to have. But I was missing the key to gratitude and what makes it powerful.

Two days ago I turned 31. It was late in the evening on my birthday when I found myself surrounded by close friends celebrating with me. We were in a cool, dark wine bar in the middle of San Francisco. It was a mixed group from different parts of my life. By the smiles you could see and the laughter you could hear, you could tell the group was having a great time. It was one of those times when multiple groups of people come together, merging perfectly over shared interests and connections.

The wine was flowing and I was standing in the middle of the group just watching the smiles on my friends’ faces. Multiple conversations were going on around me and throughout the group. It made me happy to see my friends having a such a fun time.

I was incredibly thankful for that moment. As most millennials do I felt the need to share it on Facebook.


How I used to think of gratitude

I’m sharing this because it’s a great example of how I use to think of gratitude. Not the post on Facebook, but instead being thankful for what you have or what you’ve been given by circumstance or individuals. It’s a nice feeling or something you recognize. It can be a little touchy-feely and sometimes emotional. It’s an amazing thing when you take a moment to recognize it, give it or allow yourself to have it.

For a long time gratitude was something I would have on the side or in moments like this when I was outside myself. I didn’t recognize that it had any more of a purpose, except that it made me feel good.

After being grateful I would inevitably go back to my day or go back to my work. I would end up stressing about my goals or the next level I wanted to reach.

When Stephen and I set out to do a gratitude challenge that was my perspective of gratitude. I was happy to do the challenge because I’m fascinated by personal development and I’m always up for trying something new to better myself. It’s the whole reason Stephen and I do these challenges. I was in.

The challenge was simple. We just had to write down what we were grateful for each day.

Finding things to be grateful for was easy or so I thought.

After two days I ran out of the things that made me feel grateful. I was literally trying to add more things to my list. It was getting to be a little frustrating and the value of this challenge seemed to be lacking.

Finally, I remember writing down a list of things I’d accomplished that week. I was grateful for the work I’d done. Sure I wanted to accomplish more and I’d set out with a goal to do more, but I was allowing myself to be happy with what I’d created in that moment.

Then something clicked for me. I was allowing myself to be thankful and “happy”.

Like a lot of people (and maybe you) I’m an achiever. I’m super competitive. I want more and I like to better myself. A growth mindset has always been a positive thing to me. This means I go through my day or even the majority of my life wanting more.

It reminded me of something I’d read in The Four Agreements to “try your best”.

It made me realize that by being grateful for what I had accomplished, what circumstances had given me or by showing my gratitude through my actions with others allowed me to be happy.

Being happy is when you do your best at whatever you are doing.

That’s the key to gratitude for me . . .

Being grateful is being thankful. Being thankful makes you happy. Being happy puts you in position to do your best. When you are in a position of happiness and able to do your best, you achieve.

This may seem small, but it wasn’t for me. This is the key to what makes gratitude so powerful.

Three Tips for Getting The Most Out Of This Challenge

Perform this challenge without judgement. You’ll learn more about yourself if you go with your feelings than writing something you think is more socially acceptable. This is an opportunity for you to really understand your needs for happiness and what motivates you to want to make a big change in your life.

Direct your gratitude toward what you have accomplished or individuals you want to recognize. As we move through life trying to achieve more and more we often don’t take the time to recognize what we have accomplished or the individuals who have helped us. Be grateful for what makes you happy because happiness will put you in position to do your best.

If you miss a day or don’t get to write your gratitude statements until the following morning, don’t beat yourself up. The basic goal of this challenge is to create awareness for what makes you feel grateful. You might not execute this challenge perfectly, but at least it will be making you think about gratitude for an entire week!