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A Simple 5-Minute Habit That Can Make You Happier

Smiling Woman

“Gratitude creates joy—not vice versa.” ~Dr. Brené Brown

To be blunt, my summer of 2013 sucked. In a matter of months, a tidal wave of stressful events happened and it completely shattered my sense of safety. I was on the verge of a serious depression.

The summer began with a broken heart. The love of my life, the man I planned to marry, broke up with me and admitted he had wanted to leave for the past year.

In a matter of minutes, my dreams of starting a family and living happily ever after were crushed. It caught me so off guard I could barely breathe. I quickly moved out of our New York City apartment, crashed on friends' couches, and started hunting for a second job.

After a month of couch surfing, I found a small studio to sublet in Brooklyn. Things were starting to look up until I severely sprained my foot two days before moving into the fifth floor walk-up building. In the city where you must walk and climb stairs to get anywhere, it royally sucked.

The frustrations kept rolling in. My studio apartment had no air conditioning for a couple weeks, two of my credit cards were stolen, and my office job started delivering rounds of layoffs. I started having panic attacks at night and my eye was twitching non-stop.

Things got worse when my dad got sick. He passed away in July.

Hanging on by shreds, I turned thirty at the end of the summer. Part of me wanted to throw a tantrum, kick and scream, and give up on life. But I was so exhausted, I just felt numb. So, I busied myself with work and exercise. I’ve always been stubborn, and I refused to fall apart.

Even though I felt lonely, broken, and disappointed, I had to wonder if the universe was up to something. As tough as it all was, I knew it was up to me to make it better, no matter how “unfair” the circumstances. If I learned one thing while living in NYC, it was 100 percent up to me to fix my life.

In perfect timing, I saw a re-run of Oprah’s Lifeclass on TV in September. The episode featured a panel of experts discussing how practicing gratitude offers life-changing relief from emotional pain.

As if someone dumped a cold glass of water over my head, the show gave me a major wake-up call. I realized I desperately needed to change my story.

That afternoon I wrote my first daily gratitude list and promised to write ten things I was grateful for every single day moving forward.

Each day I rode the subway to work and typed up gratitude lists on my smartphone. At first, it was difficult to force my brain to stop complaining and noticing everything that was wrong. So, I started off listing small and simple blessings like air-conditioned trains and a clean bed to sleep in every night.

It didn't take more than a few days to realize I was incredibly lucky. I was up to my ears in blessings.

My gratitude practice deepened over time, with thanks for the loving support of friends, and appreciation for every single lesson I was forced to learn that summer.

For every loss, I had a gain. I had my health, I was never hungry, and I felt stronger than ever. Those are blessings that millions of people in the world will never have.

But here’s the part I didn’t expect. The moment I started making gratitude lists, life just got easier. As each day passed, I felt better and, dare I say, blissfully optimistic.

It got easier to put my life back together because I knew I was surrounded by support. Instead of wallowing in what was wrong, I made the daily intention to focus on all the people who made me smile at work, to seek out new things to be grateful for, and to take comfort in simple pleasures like candles, hot baths, sunsets, healthy homemade food, and journaling.

I started smiling and laughing again, and everyone around me noticed. The new me was grateful to be alive, unapologetic, and full of wonder about where my life was headed next.

Bursting with positive energy, I encouraged friends to let go of their sob stories and give thanks for everything they already had. The joy I’ve experienced since starting this habit feels absolutely miraculous.

Shawn Anchor, Research Psychologist and CEO of Good Think Inc., says that gratitude listing “rewire[s] your brain, allowing [it] to actually work more optimistically and more successfully…to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.” I couldn’t agree more.

Our lives are typically full of expectations, but we often can’t predict how our weeks, months, or years will turn out. I’ve learned that no matter what your current circumstances are, you have the power to change your perspective.

Gratitude listing is a simple five-minute habit anyone can adopt that has an enormous positive impact on how you view your life. It simply makes you a happier person, and happier people attract the best of everything life has to offer.

Smiling woman image via Shutterstock

About Laurel Moll

Laurel Moll is a healthy food and lifestyle writer, fitness instructor, certified holistic health coach, and author of the plant-based cookbook, Going Back for Seconds. Connect with Laurel on InstagramTwitter, and her food blog.

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  • Bullyinglte

    You are so right, Laurel. Brain-changing is a matter of letting go of what your brain is telling you and changing your habits to tell your brain what you want to hear. It sounds so easy and can be if you let it. I am so happy that you found your way out of your depression. It is something that you and I share and I do find that starting my day saying “This is going to be a great day!” and, for me, exercise make all the difference in my life. It is amazing what our human bodies can do if we let them be at peace and think positive thoughts.

  • Thank you Bullyinglte! I appreciate your comments. I also agree about exercise being so helpful. I teach fitness classes part-time and don’t know what I’d do without that daily release of stress and tension from exercise. Wishing all the best to you. 🙂

  • AMS

    Thank you so much Laurel – I really needed to hear this today! So thank you VERY VERY MUCH! Sometimes we just need a reminder to be grateful for what we have… 2013 was a really rough year for me too…the hardest year of my life so far…and I have come out on the other side stronger and more appreciative of what I have…I am one lucky woman!

  • Marcelo

    You are absolutely right. The power of gratitude is often forgotten but something can radically change our lives. This was one of the first things I learned from the work done by Joseph Murphy whom I consider a master in the science of the mind and helped me so much in changing my attitude and improving my life.

  • Peace Within

    Thank you. I love this article! Made me realize what I am grateful for at the moment. =)

  • kratika

    Tiny buddha i love you…nd i would like to show gratitude to the universe for making this post come to me.

  • Congrats on making it through AMS! Thank you for your sweet comments. It makes it all worth while for me to share this journey with all of you.

  • I appreciate it Peace Within. Happy it resonated with you. 🙂

  • Gratitude is such a simple and easy practice that it is often looked over for creating happiness and abundance. I think that if more people had a daily gratitude practice this world would be a much better place.

  • kimette

    could not agree more…I discovered this on my own last year…was in a winter ‘FUNK’…lost all motivation for everything, even the things I love could bring me no ‘joy’…took it upon myself to make this change…I’ve always loved the simple things in life…but this ‘re-focusing’ and deciding I was responsible for my own happiness….seize the opportunities as they present themselves…gave me the BEST year of my life…too many things to mention here…it was just an INCREDIBLE, JOYOUS gift of a year…and the memories still linger!!! and I am eternally grateful…gratitude!! it is the key!…you attract what you put out there…be happy, and positive…and you will reap the rewards!

  • Breathless

    Thanks for this. I have anxiety from being traumatized 3 years ago. I refuse to cover it up with medication so I always look to things like this to bring me peace. I have my ups and downs but it does help a lot.

  • Laura

    I love this! I too went through a bad breakup that summer, had to move out of our NYC apartment. This really resonated with me. Thank you!

  • I’m sorry you had a rough time too Laura! Thrilled you enjoyed the article though and thanks for your sweet comments!

  • Wishing you all the best Breathless! Thank you for sharing.

  • Rock on Kimette! Good for you.

  • Agreed Lovelyn!

  • Dani

    Laurel thank you for writing this. It inspired me. I focus and dwell endlessly (naturally) on the negative. I’ve heard people say “focus on the positive” but that always comes from people who are naturally optimistic so my response is “easy for you to say”. But your story is so relatible that it makes me at least want to TRY. I admire your accomplishments in the About section as well. I hope to lift myself up to achieve a lot (or all) of those same goals. Number one on my thankful list today is finding this article 🙂

  • Qamigo

    Wonderfully inspiring article, thank you so much for posting. I am attempting to tackle my overly negative outlook and have made the first of many ‘Gratitude Lists’. 🙂

  • rt

    Nicely said Laurel, “We have the power to change our perspective,no matter what our current circumstances”. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lizal123

    I have found this post about showing gratitude very helpful and it’s giving me hope that I will be able to put my painful past behind me and find my happy content self again.. I have had a tough couple of years in my marriage and we are trying to make things work and move forward.. But I am haunted by my past, reliving events in my mind everyday, seeing all the negative in my life and I have so much to be grateful for..I need to be more positive and I’m going to try this every day.. Do u think it could help?

  • Thank you for writing Dani and I’m so happy you were touched by the story. That summer humbled me and it really took for me to get through all of that to understand how much power I had to change my mood, my life, and my day-to-day experience. Give it a shot for a few days and let me know how it goes. The awesome thing is you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain in starting a gratitude list habit. Good luck!

  • Hi Lizal123, I believe wholeheartedly that it would help you out. I think gratitude and positive thinking were the habits that truly saved me last summer. It was stunning to me just how powerful it is to list my blessings. I hope you try it and wishing the best of luck to you! Many thanks for your nice comments on the article.

  • You’re welcome! Thanks for letting me know. 🙂

  • Woohoo! Keep it up. It will change your life, I promise. 🙂

  • Thanks for writing Marcelo! I’ve been meaning to read some of Joseph Murphy’s work. Do you have a favorite book of his?

  • Waow . . .

  • Meri Sundar

    Thanks for the post Laurel.But how do you change your story?I am trying to change my story,taking steps toward it,but it’s just not working.I just read a little saying here today,some people will love you no matter what you do,and some people will never love you,no matter what you do.And I seem to keep finding the second one.How do I change that?I practice meditation,I practice gratitude,is there anything else I need to be doing?Please advice any one.Thanks.

  • Meri Sundar

    Oh I forgot to mention,I really enjoy reading Tiny Buddha posts and comments.So thank you every one that posts here and also for your comments and tips.We truly are blessed to be living in a world where we are all connected.Thanks to the great discovery of internet.