Try this life trick: complain less, be grateful more

A few weeks ago, during a particularly shitty time for me, I caught myself waking up morning in-morning out in a right royal crabby mood. Literally, my alarm would ring and a millisecond later I’d be thinking about how shitty this shit thing that was happening really was. Immediately. Before you could even say Morning Vietnam.

image by Kiki at thelifeandtimesofkikichaos

Then this is what was happening – I’d get out of bed, set about getting ready and head out the door and into the world with a big dark cloud hanging above my sorry noggin. Others would look at me with disdain. I could see them frowning. I was spreading shittyness everywhere I went. It was like one of those cold and flu medicine ads where a lady with a sad stuffy face walks down the street and the streetscape turns grey as she passes by. That was me.

Okay, then this is where it gets slightly spooky. Reading The Healthy Skin Diet by Karen Fischer one night, I came across this simple exercise that claimed to help you stop living under a rain cloud, find some internal peace and radiate beauty from within, so people don’t frown when they look at you. (I read this just when I really needed to hear it, which is the slightly spooky bit.) This is said exercise:

Every morning, before hopping out of bed, list in your head everything you’re grateful for. First list good things about yourself, like “I’m so grateful I have good eyesight”, “I’m so grateful I have a full head of hair”. Fischer recommends listing things even if they’re wishful thinking (i.e. you may not have a full head of hair, but list it anyway). Then list what you appreciate about the people close to you: I’m so grateful for my husband, he makes me laugh and does more laundry than I do, I’m so grateful for my daughter, she’s smart and laughs at all my jokes. Finish off by listing all the things in your environment you’re grateful for: I’m so grateful for trees, I’m so grateful for sunshine, for my house, etc etc. 

You do this for 3 – 5 minutes, or, like me, during the space between hitting the snooze button and the next alarm ringing. You do it with enthusiasm and passion. You do it every single day. You do it even if you wake up feeling like shit and the only thing you can think of being grateful for is the plate of leftover roast chicken in the fridge. The point is, by forcing your mind to think of things you are grateful for, the good things in your life, you exercise the Good Feeling Happy Thoughts muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Sure enough, the next morning, after running through all the things I’m grateful for (which admittedly was bloody hard to do because I woke up crabby) I didn’t hop out of bed moody and miserable. It made a difference! Unbelievable, but true. By the time I’d finished ranting things off in my head, I was grateful for having clean underwear and exactly two eggs left to have for breakfast. Which, yes, made me happy.

I’ve been doing this exercise every morning since, and I’ve been springing out of bed feeling peaceful, light, happy. And the feeling’s been lasting all day. I’m looking at things differently, and most things, benign things (like eggs and sand), delight me like a child is delighted when she realises her dad is home from work early.

The fact is, this gratitude stuff isn’t simply woo-woo bull dust. The notion that gratitude heightens quality of life is supported by research. Gratitude, and the palpable soul-enriching and face-warming feeling having it evokes, helps reduce stress and anxiety, increases energy levels, increases alertness, improves creativity, makes you more resilient and makes you kinder towards others. It helps you find meaning in everyday (and sometimes mundane or shitty) life, which is the secret to getting happy regardless of circumstance.

In 2007, a church minister in Kansas City asked his congregation to pledge to stop complaining and start being more grateful for 21 days straight.  People who joined were issued a Complaint Free World wristband as a reminder of their pledge. The idea spread all over the world, to Australia and to American troops in Iraq of all places, and soon enough over 126,000 wristbands had been issued. People genuinely want to be grateful. We genuinely want to stop being whingers.

While Bowen’s idea may have stemmed from stopping his churchgoers from griping about the choice of Sunday hymns or the selection of finger sandwiches at church group get-togethers, I can see how the notion of becoming aware of your whingeing may help make life better. “You catch yourself not articulating these negative thoughts that are in your head,” Bowan said, “and because there’s no place for that to flow, they tend to dry up.” More to the point, because you can’t just sit on your haunches complaining, you’re more likey to actually do something about it.

With daily practice, being grateful and less doomsday cascades into a daily habit. Although it’s fair to say it might not happen overnight. Bowen said it took him three and a half months to put together 21 complaint-free days. Nonetheless, every day you do it you build that muscle and before you know it it springs into action without you even telling it to. In fact, gratitude and the happiness that goes hand in hand with it becomes your default. Soon enough, you feel an overwhelming appreciation for the block of butter in your pantry, and when something as extraordinarily benign as that floats your boat, how can you go wrong?

Do you practice gratitude in your everyday life? How has gratitude changed your life?And tell me, what are you most grateful for?


  1. What an amazing idea, I've heard a lot about gratitude jars but never seen it work this way before, I am off to try it right this second. Thank you. .... Oh I just thought of a great one, instead of being annoyed I have to finish a Uni assignment essay I am grateful that I live in a country where a female is allowed to go to university and become educated.
    Makes me look at my essay completely different, thanks x

  2. I've done exactly this... but as I fall asleep at night. When I am stressed and in a bad place, sleep is hard to come by. I can lie awake for hours worrying about things that I can't change in the darkness of my bedroom. So I decided to change my thoughts at bedtime and give thanks. Thanks for the love I have, the person beside me, friends, family, health, animals, my home... pretty much anything and everything. And without fail, I will end up falling asleep mid way through it all, sleeping peacefully and fully. And it really does remind you that life if good, even when it feels crap. It puts it all in perspective. And I think it becomes habit too. Now falling asleep is for happy thoughts... and should they stray away, its pretty easy to pull them back into line with some thanks.

    1. Anna, I am also a worry wort when it comes to sleep time! I am doing the same, turning it into gratitude. Nice to see I'm not the only one out there worrying about all the crap I can't control. Gratitude = Zzzzzz :)

    2. The past week has been a tough one for me, on the work stress front. So I have been giving thanks like crazy! It helps so much. Alicia we will be recovering 'worriers' together!! :)

  3. Gratitude is amazingly powerful, isn't it? I practice it, every Monday in a gratitude diary, and every morning before I get out of bed I'll give thanks for at least one thing - a little reminder of how good the big picture is. It's about perspective, not sweating the small stuff, looking on the bright side, silver linings etc (any other cliched saying you'd like to add!), but it is true. When you learn that your thoughts dictate your feelings and not the other way around, it can really help your overall happiness.
    I have so much to be grateful for - from the big stuff of health and a loving family, right down to the last boiled egg for lunch :)
    Great post Maria, I really enjoy your blog.

  4. Hi Maria, I love your writings. simple really. It's amazing really how much time our minds spend focused on the little irritating things. I've been noticing more of the good stuff around me and noticing how it builds, the more I focus on gratitude the more I see and dig the stuff around me. One of my fav's really is just the plain old simple fact that i wake up and experience life with all it's wonders each day. Nat x

  5. Such a poignant post at a time, when I have also been having that 'why is the world is such a shitty mood' month. It seems that all the negatives that surround me, seem to creep into my normally happy self and have been dragging me down. As a result, I'd decided to stop getting annoyed at other people's anger and even stopped associating (at least for the moment) with those that are getting me down.

    On the upside, being the month of Thanksgiving to my family and friends back 'home' in the US, I've seen lots of people posting FB status or the like centred around things they are thankful for, daily, and that warms my heart.

    I love the idea to list the things we are thankful or grateful for each morning or in the evening - I've done this in the past, for short periods of time (and then forget to keep up the task), and it realy does give you a general sense of happiness. For every - nay-sayer/complaint, I try and be the devil's advocate and give it an upside - even if people look at me funny and grumble.

    I really needed to read this post, so perfect for my month of grumpies! As usual, thank you for sharing!!!

  6. Thanks all, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post... it's such a simple exercise but it really can make a difference to how you feel, and subsequently how you behave. Have fun with it!

  7. This is exactly what I needed at this moment - I've been feeling torn about a few things - some serious, some not so and am tired of feeling blah. So I think I needed this reminder to be grateful for what I have right now :)

  8. I like think of myself as a grateful and positive person, recently the woes of the world have got me down. Sometimes it's difficult not to fall in a heap trying to live a good life whilst being compassionate and strong for others. I have struggled with the realisation that there is no place for toxic people in my quest for the simple life and have now decided that's not so bad to remove yourself from people that don't have your best interests at heart.
    There are some pretty shitty things that go on in this world, but there are some damn fab things too. So I try to focus on those.
    Thankfully I have woken up to my cranky arse, with awareness that I can not help everyone and now working to get back on track for me, and the positive/important peeps I conciously choose to surround myself with. This post was the perfect read for this process of letting go of the grouch I have become and embracing gratitude and positivity again! thAAAAAnk you! :)))

  9. You know, I've been feeling so shitty-like, and trapped in my own despair of late, that I have to try this! Thanks for posting.

  10. At dinner time in our house, everyone has to share one thing they are grateful for from their day. My kids (10 & 7) love it and often keep it going for the entire meal!!!!!! We also have a family saying (which we remind each other of if we find ourselves whining ) "Attitude of Gratitude". We have it written on the fridge!

    1. This is so fantastic Mr Shell! Doing gratitude with the family is brilliant, especially with kids!

      I did "5 things for which you are grateful..." for our family's 2008 Xmas dinner (I am known for my "Christmas tasks"!! lol) and it was delightful...especially HEARING everyone's "5 things".
      I am SO grateful for this little activity as it was my father's last Xmas with us; We put it up for his funeral and his memorial, and it was simply heartwarming to say the least :)

      Oh, and "Attitude of Gratitude" kicks "Stay away from the cake!" right out of the 'fridge-park!! LOL Love it!....And welcoming it to my 'fridge-family!
      Merci :D

    2. Sounds like you have a wonderful, mindful family Mr Shell!

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