Practicing Gratitude Is Self-Help Advice That Actually Works
After living by the rules of 50 self-help books, this one stuck
For three years, I followed all the rules of a different self-help book for two weeks at a time: eating what the books said to eat; talking as the books said to talk; waking, sleeping, decorating, and interacting with my husband according to each book’s doctrine. I was recording it all for a reality-show podcast called By the Book with my friend and co-host, Jolenta Greenberg.
Predictably, some of the guidance we encountered didn’t work at all. Some of the duds were waking up early, dieting, and living by the law of attraction. But some of the principles we picked up on our self-help journey really did make our lives better. One big winner: practicing gratitude.
At least 10% of the books we lived by included some approach for practicing gratitude, but my favorite came from A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik. In a single year, Kralik set out to write 365 thank-you notes. Initially, he did it as a way to feel less hopeless during a time when he wasn’t sure his life was worth living. But with each letter he wrote and tracked, he was able to literally count his blessings. At the same time, the act of sitting down each day with pen and paper helped to retrain his brain to focus more on the good things in life and less on the bad.
But Kralik didn’t just write letters. He also made a practice of answering simple how-are-yous with things he was grateful for rather than complaints. When he was feeling down, he would play the Glad Game, which he first learned about while reading Eleanor H. Porter’s classic children’s book Pollyanna to his daughter. In the Glad Game, players list all the things they’re happy about, as a way to muster the fortitude to get through life’s challenges.
During the time I was living by Kralik’s book, the branch of the company I was working for had just decided to fold. I was worried about my direct reports and concerned for myself. And on top of that, I had medical issues that required surgery. I was feeling down.
Gratitude gives me a break from despair.