Tag Archives: gratitude

Can the Simple Act of Making a List Boost Your Happiness?

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Can the simple act of making a list boost your happiness?

When I was in college, I took a class on the culture of Heian Japan,  and the one and only thing I remember about that subject is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This strange, brilliant book has haunted me for years.

Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, and in her “pillow book,” she wrote down her impressions about things she liked, disliked, observed, and did.

I love lists of all kind, and certainly Sei Shonagon did, as well. Her lists are beautifully evocative. One of my favorites is called Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster:

Sparrows feeding their young

To pass a place where babies are playing.

To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.

To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.

To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.

To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.

It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.

Other marvelous lists include Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past, Things That Cannot Be Compared, Rare Things, Pleasing Things, Things That Give a Clean Feeling, Things That One Is in a Hurry to See or to Hear, People Who Look Pleased with Themselves, and, another of my very favorites, from the title alone, People Who Have Changed As Much As If They Had Been Reborn.

Making lists of this sort is a terrific exercise to stimulate the imagination, heighten powers of observation, and stoke appreciation of the everyday details of life. Just reading these lists makes me happier.

How about you? Have you ever made a list of observations, in this way?

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here.

Now for a moment of sheer self-promotion: For reasons of my own, which are too tiresome to relate, I’m make a big push for Happier at Home. If you’ve been thinking about buying it, please buy now! If you’d like a little more info before you decide, you can…

Read a sample chapter on “time”

Listen to a sample chapter

Request signed, personalized bookplates for you or for gifts (U.S and Canada only, sorry)

Request signed, personalized “Tips for Happiness in Your New Home” card for you or for gifts (U.S and Canada only, sorry)

Watch the one-minute trailer–see if you can guess what item has proved controversial

Request the book club discussion guide

Get the behind-the-scenes extra

Final note: I love all my books equally, but my sister the sage says that Happier at Home is my best book.

Stock up now! Okay, end of commercial. Thanks for indulging me.

Story: My Sister Wasn’t Sorry To See Me Go, But She Was Glad I Came.

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: My sister wasn’t sorry to see me go–but she was glad I came.


Can’t see the video? Click here.

What does this story mean, exactly? I don’t think I captured it in my summation in the video. I meant to say: sometimes, even when we don’t enjoy something, or feel grateful for it at the time, we’re grateful for it later. So when I’m the person who’s giving that not-particularly-welcome help, I have to remember not to expect gold stars; the important thing is to be helping someone I love over the long term.

This can be hard for a gold-star junkie like myself! Do you ever battle this? Feel annoyed or disappointed when people don’t seem grateful, even if you know that in the long run you’re helping? This is particularly difficult, because sometimes people honestly aren’t grateful, and would prefer that we not “help.” In this case, it was clear that my sister did in fact welcome my help. And at the same time, she was glad to see me go!

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Taken for granted? 5 tips for dealing with feeling unappreciated.

Want to be free from French fries? Or, why abstaining may be easier than you think. [This isn’t related to the subject of the video but contains words of wisdom from my sister the sage.]

You can also read more about this in Happier at Home.

Find the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

A Trip to the Pediatrician’s Office Reminded Me of This Important Truth.

This week, I took both my daughters to the pediatrician for their annual check-ups. I was a little late, but the need to turn in camp health forms got me to schedule the appointments, finally.

As I walked out of the second appointment this morning, I found myself thinking, “Good! That’s another thing to cross off my to-do list.”

But this afternoon, another thought occurred to me. At various points, several of my friends would have joyfully given all they possessed for a fifteen-minute appointment with the pediatrician that ended with the cheerful words, “Everything looks great! See you in the fall for flu shots.”

Once again, I remind myself: The things for which I’m most grateful are often the things that I take for granted.

One day, we all have that bad visit to the doctor’s office, but this week, our visits were good. And I want never to lose sight of how very, very grateful I am for that.

Story: What Am I Really Complaining About?

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: What am I really complaining about?


This story reminds me of what Mindy Kaling said in her happiness interview (yes, that’s right, I did an interview with Mindy Kaling):

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Mindy: When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty.

How about you? Have you ever been able to stop your complaining, by asking yourself, “What am I really complaining about?”

You can check out the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Remember to subscribe to my Channel! (The subscribe button is in the top banner here).

On Awaiting the Arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

I live in New York City, and we’re waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit. The wind and rain will get bad today, and the storm surge–that’s the real threat to the city–will be at its highest tonight.

Usually I dismiss dire weather warnings (especially a hurricane with the mild-mannered name of “Sandy”–really?), but when I heard that the mass transit system was shutting down, I started paying attention. In New York, everything depends on mass transit.

Now, we wait.

I’ve used the phrase “the calm before the storm” in conversation before, but I never really thought about its meaning. Now I get it. There’s no rain now, and just a breeze, yet the city is preternaturally quiet for a Monday morning.

One characteristic of human nature is that we often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Loss, or threat of loss, makes us aware of everything we’ve taken for granted.

I’ve been feeling so grateful for electricity, running water, New York City, the subway system, my apartment building, my neighbors, grocery stores, my intact windows and roof–for my beloved ordinary day, and I’ll try to hang on to that gratitude long after the storm has passed.

Have you ever lived through a hurricane, earthquake, or the like?

Just in the time that I’ve been writing this post, the rain has started.