It’s officially November, which means that you’re about to see a whole lot of gratitude on social media. Whether on Facebook or Instagram, you’re likely to see your friend, college roommate, or great aunt Tessie participating in a November gratitude challenge. This usually means posting one thing a day that the person is grateful for, sometimes posting pictures or tagging a person they love.
And while I’m all about flexing your gratitude muscle, I have to be honest. Most of these November gratitude challenges don’t work. At least, not like you think.
Here’s the deal. Most people take on a November gratitude challenge in an effort to grow their gratitude muscle. They hope that after 30 days of naming something they’re grateful for, it’ll be easier to notice good stuff on the regular. I’m so supportive of this goal! I love hearing people want to appreciate of the small stuff. But while naming one thing a day to be be grateful for sounds like a good way to grow your gratitude muscle, the research doesn’t support it.
Your brain is wired to focus on the negative. (See why here.) It naturally notices and holds onto the bad stuff, minimizing or dismissing the good. So if you want to train your brain to see the good, naming one thing a day isn’t going to cut it. Spotting one good thing a day doesn’t challenge your brain. It’s too easy. It doesn’t make your brain work to find the good. And if your brain isn’t working to find the good, your gratitude muscle won’t get stronger.
Consider this quick example. Let’s say you decide that you want to get better at noticing the color red. So, to help you with this, I ask you to stand at your window every morning, naming one red thing you see. Just one. It can be a passing car, a bird, or a stop sign, but you only have to name one red thing a day. Each day, you’re likely to go to the window, naming the first and most obvious red thing you see. Then you’ll sit back down, not really challenging your brain to look past the obvious. You won’t really work to find new red objects.
Now let’s pretend that I change up your challenge and ask you to name three red things per day. And I tell you that you can’t have any repeats. The first day, you might notice a red passing car, a red Coke can that blew into your yard, and the corner of a beautiful fall leaf. The next day, you might notice the red roof on your neighbors’ bird house, the red lettering on a street sign outside, and the red flag on your mailbox.
It’ll get harder a few days in, and you’ll spend several minutes searching and scanning to find tiny pops of red. By having your brain search for more things, you’re going to start to notice the color red with greater ease. Challenging your brain to name three, new pops of red each day for a month will be far more helpful than just naming one thing each day.
Turns out, gratitude works the same way. Too often, we get into a gratitude rut. We think gratitude is reserved for big stuff and major moments. Each fall, as people take on a November gratitude challenge, they seem to say the same things over and over, year after year. And don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to be grateful for these things. But they’re only a tiny sliver of the goodness that’s out there. Most gratitude challenges don’t help your brain to discover new and daily things to be grateful for.
So to really grow your gratitude muscle, to truly become more grateful, here’s a more effective November gratitude challenge. Each day, name three new things that you’re grateful for. No repeats and no skipped days. On days when you can’t think of three things, dig deep. That’s the best time to truly flex that muscle. It’s the best time to teach your brain to find the small stuff.
Gratitude is shown to be a dramatic shaper of happiness and well being. It’s free, easy, and has no negative side effects. So if you’re taking on a November gratitude challenge, do yourself a favor and try this three new things method. Naming one thing isn’t going to cut it. It’s not going to grow your gratitude muscle. Make your efforts worth it this November. Dig deep and find small sources of gratitude, no matter how tiny!
Do you know someone who’s taking on a November gratitude challenge? Share this post with them, and help them get the most out of their efforts!
PS: Initially, I was skeptical about the science of gratitude. But I had a moment that completely sealed the deal for me. You can read about that life changing moment here.