Ep17: Two easy gratitude exercises that will make you happier

The TalentGrow Show Gratitude episode

This week in the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving. Therefore, the TalentGrow Show episode this week is a special one all about gratitude. Did you know that studies show that people who practice mindful gratitude (like keeping a gratitude journal) are 25% happier? In this shorter solo episode, I will teach you how to try keeping a gratitude journal and writing a gratitude letter. These are just two examples of many kinds of habits that you can develop to become more grateful and, as a result, actually become happier.

We are “hungry for more joy because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.”
~Dr. Brené Brown

What you’ll learn in this episode:

Listen to Stitcher
  • Learn how to keep a gratitude journal
  • Discover what kind of exercise can be very moving for both you and a special person in your life
  • Hear about my experience of thanking an influential dance teacher from my teens
  • Get inspired to become more grateful every day, in small but profound ways
  • Practice baby steps to build your own gratitude habits and become a happier person

What action will you be taking after listening to this episode? Write it in the comments below and let's keep each other accountable!

I'm very grateful to you for listening to my podcast. Thank you!!


Here are some resources mentioned during this episode or that informed some of my insights about this topic, to help you become more grateful and happier!

Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being





Intro/outro music for The TalentGrow Show: "Why-Y" by Esta - a great band of exquisitely talented musicians, and good friends of mine.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: This is the TalentGrow Show and I am Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here with episode 17, a special Thanksgiving episode. Here in the U.S. it is Thanksgiving this week and I am really excited to be celebrating it with my family back on the East Coast, and I wanted to share a little bit of a different episode with you this time. I’m not interviewing anyone, it’s just me and the mike and you. And I wanted to talk about gratitude since it’s a perfect topic for Thanksgiving. It’s something that I’ve mentioned several times in my blog and recent newsletters, and it’s something that comes up again and again that really seems to make a huge difference. It has a major “duh” factor – we kind of all know about it – but most people I meet, especially in organizational settings, are really not practicing enough gratitude.

So did you know that there are studies that show that people who increase their practice of gratitude are 25 percent happier? For example, if they keep a gratitude journal, and they sleep a half hour more per evening, and they exercise 33-percent more each week compared to people who are not keeping a gratitude journal? So I’m going to teach you actually how to do that in a few minutes. This comes from a book called Gratitude Works: 21 Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. The idea of a gratitude journal is one that’s been around for a while and I’ve talked about it in my blog before I linked it in the show notes, but I think it’s just so profound. Because it is so simple and it makes such a huge difference. So, it’s one of the techniques that I want to share with you today. I want to share with you one other technique for becoming more grateful and as a result, becoming happier. So are you ready? Here we go.

A gratitude journal. Every night, for the next two weeks, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to take a nice notebook – if you really want to take this to the next level, get yourself a special notebook, one that’s just for this purpose, but honestly, any kind of notebook that you have laying around that maybe you received in a conference or you received as a gift from a company with their logo on it, whatever. It doesn’t matter. It can just be a small moleskin. Keep it next to your bed, and every night, set aside time as a habit, no matter what, before you go to sleep, to write in your gratitude journal. And gratitude journal maybe sounds a little bit hokey to you, but you can call it whatever you want. Here’s what you do – I like to call this “three good things,” because that’s kind of a simple way to name this exercise.

So thee good things, here’s how it works. You write down the date, and you write down three good things about the day. Now, this could be something as mundane as, “I’m glad I woke up in the morning and had an opportunity to get out of bed and go to work.” Or it could be something like, “I had such a delicious dinner at the restaurant with my friends.” Or maybe it was, “I’m really grateful today because I get to do work that I love and was able to spend at least two hours really engrossed in a flow state where I lost track of time and I was doing something that I really enjoyed.” Or it could be, some days it could be as simple as, “I’m grateful to be alive.” So, you need to search for at least three things about the day for which you are grateful. And especially if you want to make this really meaningful, actually write down why you are grateful for them. And that’s it. It doesn’t take very long, it’ll take five minutes, maybe 10 minutes max. You just put that down and you go to sleep. This is the last thing you do before you go to sleep.

Now, you have to keep this up for at least two weeks for this to really take a good effect, because it takes time to build a habit and it takes time for the effects of a good habit to start making their way into your brain. Because your brain has to build new neuron connections and new pathways where others did not, where they didn’t exist before. But wouldn’t it be amazing if you did this every night, to actually become happier as the science shows? I think it’s so worthwhile, but I’ll tell you something else. What you’ll find –and tell me if this is true, I’d love to hear from you – what you’ll find is that you’re going to start noticing throughout your day the things that you can be grateful for. Because when you give your brain a task, like your brain knows its on the hook for the gratitude journal, and it knows that you’re expecting to be able to write three things down. And I tell you, it might be hard the first two days or so because your brain isn’t really used to thinking that way, and it’s not used to noticing those things for which you’re grateful, and certainly not consciously or marking them in your brain for later retrieval. But, once you start doing this gratitude journal, your brain is going to be like, “I’m on the hook! I’ve got to get some information so that she or he doesn’t feel like they’re stuck.” Your brain is going to look for things and help you find them.

So, what already happens to you that you already could be grateful for, your brain is going to help you notice and remember it. Wouldn’t that be awesome, to go through your day, noticing and feeling grateful for what happens to you? Yes. This would be amazing. Do you know what else? Your brain is actually going to help you reframe things that maybe otherwise you wouldn’t have thought of as something you’re grateful for, to help you get enough material for the gratitude journal. So you’re actually going to be able to take notes throughout the day about what happens to you that maybe wouldn’t otherwise fit into that category very neatly of something you’re grateful for. Actually reframe it or re-explain it to yourself in your mind as something worthy of your gratitude. And so, in fact, you’re going to increase your felt experience and gratitude throughout the day and you’re going to shift your lens for looking at your life through a more grateful one. And this, my friends, will make you happier.

So I hope that you will take me up on this challenge and start keeping a gratitude journal. Now, do you think I only want you to keep it for two weeks? Do you think you wouldn’t really benefit from keeping it for longer? Of course. But you know, baby steps are often all we need. If I told you, “Hey, start doing this for the rest of your life,” you’re going to be like, “No thanks Halelly! I’m kind of busy.” But if I tell you to do something that takes five minutes or 10 minutes most for two weeks, your brain is going to be like, “Yeah, I got this. I can do it.” So take me up on this challenge and I do hope that you can experience the difference that it makes and that you’ll try to continue doing it. You can teach this to your loved ones. You can teach this to your children, to your grandchildren. This would be such an awesome kind of thing to start.

Now, what I can tell you also is that neuroscience – and you know, probably by now, that I’m a big neuroscience geek. I just love that stuff. Neuroscience now helps us know that the reason this happens is that your brain actually releases chemicals as a result of your feeling gratitude that are the same chemicals used in antidepressants. Dopamine which is a neurotransmitter is released by the feeling of gratitude. And also, serotonin. It’s another feel-good hormone that your brain actually shoots into your body when you feel gratitude. So by feeling more gratitude, you actually feel better in your body, in the very moment, and by increasing that well-being, the life quality will actually get better.

So the second practice that I want to share with you today before we wrap it up and maybe go eat some turkey – we don’t eat turkey, we eat prime rib, yummy! – is to do a gratitude letter. Now this is not something you do every day for 14 days. But it’s something that you do that is so powerful – and it’s been written about a lot – a gratitude letter. Think about someone who has had a really positive effect on you and your life. Maybe it’s a teacher, a parent, a loved one, someone influential in work, someone who was a mentor to you, really anyone. And it doesn’t have to be somebody that was in your life a long time, and it doesn’t have to be someone who is in your life for a long time - just someone to who you are sincerely and deeply grateful. And you take a nice piece of paper and you handwrite them a letter. Not a thank you card. Not two or three sentences. Thanking them. And you try to actually describe in detail how grateful you are to them and why. Why they’re so special to you. I’m telling you, this is such a powerful exercise. Just think about it and just write it. But it gets better.

What you do now, ideally, is you call them up and you make a time to meet with them, face-to-face or on the phone or maybe on Skype. And you read that letter out loud to them. Can you imagine how they will feel when they hear this story about how grateful you are, and specifically why, from you? What an amazing thing that you’re going to give them as a gift, and they deserve it, right? Because you’re grateful to them. But do you think that might make you feel an even deeper sense of gratitude and well-being? It is so moving. So, I did this with my dance teacher, who was really like my second mom. When I was a teenager, I spent all my free time in the dance studio. I was taking lessons and also teaching lessons, and she was a very nurturing figure in my life that gave me things that I couldn’t have in a relationship with my mom when I was a teenager. And she gave me a lot of guidance for life, even though it was cloaked in what appeared to be just guidance for dance. Learned a lot of things from this woman – her name is Carol Wilford – and she taught me things like, I would say, “I can’t do it,” and she said, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t do it, Halelly. Say I’m unable at the moment.” All kinds of stuff like that. And so I wrote her this really long letter, after many years of kind of losing touch. I mean, I kept loosely, in holiday greetings and so on, but I sent her this letter. And she was so touched by it and she appreciated it so much. She actually sent me a letter back, with her appreciation. So, I kind of cheated because I didn’t go visit her to go read it to her and I didn’t call her, but I did send her the letter. So there’s no perfect way to do it, and guess what? It’s so much better to send it than not to send it at all. So don’t get caught up in perfection. Make it the best that you can for whatever fits into your life and make it happen. It is a moving experience. It makes a huge difference in the well-being, both of the person receiving of course, but also of the person giving the gratitude.

So I hope that you try these ideas. And I hope that you express your gratitude with the people in your life who make a difference, and that you start looking for more and more evidence about how people make the difference for you, and how you can thank them. Employees at work, your coworkers, your boss, people who report to you, your clients – express your sincere gratitude. Try to be as specific as possible on this and as timely as possible, and your life will change in a really great way and for the better. And you will be happier.

So I’d like to thank you for listening to my podcast. I am so honored that you choose to spend time with me. I hope that you’ve learned from the guests that I’ve brought so far and maybe from this episode as well, and I’d love to hear what you thought about this and if you’d like to get more of these kinds of solo episodes, I’ve been thinking about maybe doing them here and there, or maybe kind of varying between one episode solo and one episode with an interview. But because you listen and you know what you like to hear, I’d love to know. That way I can make it perfect for you or close to perfect. But I am very, very grateful to you. It is the only reason that I made this podcast. It’s kind of a lot of work but I enjoy it so tremendously and the idea that you would gain benefit from it and gain value from it is what keeps me going. So thank you for listening. I really appreciate you. I hope that if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving that you have a great, great Thanksgiving. And if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope that you make this a very grateful week. Thank you for checking in to the TalentGrow Show. Thank you for your attention and your interest and make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.


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