“My phone is so new, no one makes a case for it.”
“There’s free wifi, but it’s so slow.”
“I can’t spread the butter on my toast because it’s too cold.”
“I want food from the back of the fridge, but it’s blocked by all the food in the front of the fridge.”
“I have more clothes than clothes hangers.”
We’ve all had them. Those ‘first-world problems’ that vex us day to day. Yet, there’s nothing like a good internet meme to help us realize that by the very virtue of having those problems, we’re not doing too bad in life.
While I love creative life hacks that work around these vexing problems of prosperity, the best life hack I’ve learned was explained to me by a 17-year-old.
My wife is the oldest of 8 kids, and her youngest sister is almost 2 decades younger than her. At Christmas-time this year, this 17-year-old sister gave a present of a small notebook to each of our kids. Inside the cover of each notebook she wrote a note:
“For a while when I was 8 years old, I was really negative and unhappy. In my [youth] class we were each given a ‘gratitude journal’ and challenged to fill it up by writing something every day. As I did it, I became so much happier, and so did my family.
I wanted to keep feeling like that so I have kept a gratitude journal since then and it has been a wonderful reminder that even when there are lots of hard things happening, there are always beautiful blessings too if you take the time to look for them!”
She then challenged each of our kids to take a few minutes and write down some things they are grateful for every day.
So how does a small journal entry help you solve your wifi, cold butter, clothes hangar, and Airpods problems? OK, it won’t solve them directly.
But it’s hard to feel too frustrated about an overcrowded refrigerator after taking a moment to appreciate the fact that you have food — and lots of it.
With practice at gratitude, you can come to recognize that the many little, pedantic irritations of life are the direct result of big, wonderful blessings. Employment, prosperity, food, living quarters, technology, family, friends — each brings its own new set of little challenges. However, we wouldn’t want to discard the big and good to prevent the small and annoying.
By embracing an inner gratitude for the good things in life, we empower an emotional shrink-ray. All of a sudden, we have the power to shrink our problems until they become inconsequential to our happiness.
Now you may say, “That’s all fine and good for these minor annoyances. But I have serious problems. Not just these minor ‘first-world’ problems.”
In addition to the inconveniences we face every day in a prosperous, modern world, there is no shortage of the big problems that transcend all circumstances. Depression, economic uncertainty, illness, conflict, death, and disappointment never seem to be in short supply — regardless of whether you have a smartphone or not.
Despite these major problems, we can still find room for gratitude.
Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently gave some advice following the plagues and perils of 2020. As a former physician, he had a “prescription” for life’s troubles.
Over my nine and a half decades of life, I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.
Even in the midst of troubling times and perilous conditions, we can always find something to be grateful for. That gratitude can give us hope that a good future is available. That hope can give us courage to persist through our current challenges.
So how to cultivate a habit of gratitude?
The 2-Minute, 2-Week Challenge
Here’s the challenge: for 2 minutes each day, write down what you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be eloquent. It just has to be sincere.
To make this gratitude routine a permanent habit, there are three simple steps to follow (for more information see BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits; you can also read this article).
Step 1: Find a prompt
What will be your daily prompt to journal? Many of us use phone alarms or calendar alerts to remind us. You could also tie it to another daily habit. For example:
Just before I go to bed, I’ll write in my journal.
I’ll journal first thing in the morning.
I’ll journal after I get dressed each day.
I’ll journal after I get in my car or before I start work each day.
As my gift to you, follow the link below to get a daily gratitude prompt for 14 days. You’ll not only get a daily reminder, you’ll get some ideas to consider for your gratitude journaling.
Step 2: Make it easy
A 2-minute gratitude journaling session doesn’t take much time, so that part is already easy. However, you can set up your environment to make the 2-minute journaling extra convenient. Take a few minutes and find (or buy) a journal you like. Find the pen you want to use. Put them in a convenient location. Everything you can do to make it easier will help this habit lock in.
Step 3: Celebrate
Hopefully, the act of gratitude journaling will be a celebration in and of itself. One of the keys to locking in a new habit is to help yourself feel good about your habit. If you don’t feel good after doing it, you won’t keep it up!
So how will you celebrate completing your new habit? Smile. Draw a smiley face. Hug yourself. Do a mini-victory dance. Breathe and relax. Find something you do naturally that helps you feel good and do it.
Iterate and Grow
As you do these three steps each day, don’t worry if something isn’t working. This is your chance to experiment and change things.
Is your prompt not working? Try a different one.
Does 2 minutes feel too long? Do 1 minute, or maybe 30-seconds. Or just commit to writing one sentence of gratitude. Or one word! Just make sure it feels easy.
You may be tempted to write a lot on your first day. However, avoid the temptation to overdo it at the beginning. This is a long-haul practice, so start small. As time goes on, your habit will lock in and you can naturally increase the length or time you spend writing in gratitude until you find the time and amount that is right for you.
And if a bad day comes up, time runs tight, interferences arise, you can always go back to your small, basic habit. The small action that is the basis of your everyday actions.
I could write about research results on the effects of gratitude journaling and mental health.
I could tell you about my personal experiences of expressing gratitude in writing.
I could refer you to other articles that tell you how you will be better off by gratitude journaling.
But why not just try it and see for yourself? You’ll feel the good effects in your life. And you’ll feel better the next time you have cold, unspreadable butter.
14 Days of Gratitude Prompts
Sign up here to get 14 days of gratitude prompts. I’ll also keep you updated on future 2-minute habits that will strengthen your body, mind, heart, and spirit.