Before we jump into gratitude and habit-stacking, let’s talk about mental health.
For years there’s been a basic formula for better physical health. Eat more whole foods, add more movement to your day, stay hydrated, and get good sleep.
When it comes to mental health, the approach is generally a load of crap.
Most doctor’s first move is to load you up on medication.
And friends and family who don’t understand will tell you to “cheer up” or “try and exercise more.”
Listen, mental health is extremely complex and while medication and exercise are the right answer for some folks, they won’t do diddly squat for others.
There are dozens of techniques and practices that are proven to boost mental health; meditation, mindfulness, journaling, breathing, therapy, Yoga, the list goes on.
Any one of these could give you the happiness and clarity you’re looking for.
But, when we look at the research on how to promote basic day-to-day well-being and quality of life, there’s one method that sticks out.
The simple act of practicing gratitude has gained massive popularity in the last few years for one reason; it works.
Everyone from CEOs to health professionals to Harvard researchers seems to have caught the gratitude bug.
Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder of the Huff Post and CEO of Thrive Global says “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”
Studies that have examined the benefits of being grateful have produced some pretty righteous findings.
“Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months. The research is amazing,” says Harvard researcher and author of Before Happiness, Shawn Acor.
Regularly expressing gratitude has also been linked to improved sleep, higher immune function, and increased production of serotonin and dopamine.
We know it’s good for us, but so many of us still don’t do it on a regular basis. That’s where the ol’ habit-stack comes in.
Habit-Stack + Gratitude = Happiness
Getting a new habit to stick is no easy task.
Just look at New Year’s resolutions; less than 8% of people end up holding to their new routines, ideals, or patterns.
There’s a bunch of reasons why new habits usually get left in the dust, but let’s focus on how to actually get them to stay for good.
Our brains love routines and patterns. Think about most of the daily habits you have right now; brushing your teeth, getting dressed, making a cup of coffee, taking a shower.
We accomplish all these tasks every day with almost no effort. Most of our current daily habits are subconscious; they happen with or without our intention.
These patterns and behaviors have been strengthened over the years and we can take advantage of them.
The best way to get a new habit to stick is to stack it on top of a current habit.
If you want to do more push-ups, try doing 3 every time you have a sip of water.
Want to read more? Start reading 1 page every time you pour yourself a cup of coffee.
The brain wants to create and stick to patterns. Taking advantage of that is up to us.
Gratitude is no different. A favorite (and successful) habit-stack of mine is gratitude upon waking up.
As soon as I wake up, I think of 5 things I am grateful for and list them in my head. It took about two weeks of doing this with intention before it became automatic.
Now, instead of waking up thinking about emails or checking IG and texts, I wake up grateful.
Just about all of us could use a boost in mental health these days, gratitude is the best place to start.
For a detailed look at how to create your own habit-stack, check out this week’s challenge.