Bad days happen to the best of us: The alarm doesn't go off, your kids are fussy, you get stuck in traffic, and as soon as you get to work, you spill coffee down the front of your favorite shirt. And then, to add insult to injury, you log onto Facebook and are greeted by the smiling face of your old college roommate, who is just so #blessed. Lucky her.
But is her life really better than yours? It turns out that being grateful for what you have—even if some days, what you have appears to be a disaster—is mostly an exercise in self-reflection. Here are some simple things you can incorporate into your daily routine in order to better appreciate the good things you have going in your life—and doing so, studies have found, can improve your physical and emotional health.
1. KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL.
The task is easy: Each week, take the time to write down and reflect on five things that you're grateful for. "These can be small things, but big things are fine, too," Jo-Ann Tsang, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, says.
A 2003 study by researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis [PDF], found that students who recorded the things they're grateful for felt better about their lives, exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical problems, were more likely to make progress towards personal goals, and were more optimistic about their upcoming week than students who were tasked with writing down hassles or neutral life events.
For the greatest benefits, focus on people, rather than things, in your journaling, and go into detail about why you appreciate each item. Also, don't feel compelled to journal daily: According to the University of California, Berkeley's Greater Good blog, journaling once per week was found to be more beneficial than daily journaling.
2. DO A 30-DAY CHALLENGE.
Committing to a full month of reflection not only boosts your gratitude awareness, but gives you the satisfaction of completing a goal. Lisa Ryan, gratitude expert and author of Express Gratitude, Experience Good, suggests writing down three to five things that you're grateful for each day for the next 30 days. As with gratitude journaling, this exercise works best if you're specific. Instead of writing that you're grateful for your husband, Ryan says, "you should write, 'I'm so thankful that Scott cooked a great dinner last night.'"
If you choose to write your list in the morning, you'll set a positive expectation for your day. Writing it in the evening will remind you of the good the day brought, even if it was a particularly hard day to get through. It will also help you fall asleep faster and sleep better, Ryan says.
3. HOST A GRATITUDE PARTY.
If you're going through a hard time, write down the names of the people who have helped you in your life. Then, plan a party in their honor. Amy Newmark, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude, says, "You'll find that in planning your guest list, you'll start noticing how many people are there for you extending a helping hand every day. This will make you more grateful, and you'll feel less alone every day."
4. GAIN SOME PERSPECTIVE.
Thinking about the alternatives can help you appreciate what you have, Newmark says. For example, are you stuck emptying the dishwasher again? Think about the fact that you have a warm, comfortable home filled with kitchen appliances. Are you running around in a frenzy, with no time for yourself? Think about how full your life is. "Would you rather not have these errands to do, these kids to drive around, this job that creates all this work?" Newmark asks.
5. SPREAD KINDNESS.
The very fact that you have the ability to do something nice for someone else will make you feel more confident of your own situation, more aware of your own capabilities, and more grateful for the blessings in your own life. Keep a list of the good deeds you perform—it can be as simple as holding a door for someone or letting a mother with a crying child go ahead of you in line at the store, Newmark says.
And find the right "dosage" for you. For some people, doing five kind things on one day each week, rather than doing five good things throughout the week, showed more positive benefits. Others, however, get more of a boost from daily positive activity [PDF].
This story first ran in 2016.