Thirty Days of Gratitude – An Experiment

I have a confession to make. During the month of September 2015, I subjected many of my closest friends, family, and colleagues to an experiment and didn’t inform them ahead of time. Normally, this might be fairly icky from an ethical perspective, but this case is different. Why? Because once a day, for an entire month, I went out of my way to write a personalized thank you card to each of these individuals. I hope no one minds. :)

Why?

Last year, I read a post about how frequent expressions of gratitude will boost your own personal happiness. From cursory internet searches, it looks like this is a well-accepted phenomenon, but this particular article is what inspired me to commit to it once a day for a month. (The article actually suggests 21 days, but a month was easier for me to remember.)

I was surprised by just how much people appreciate a simple 'thanks.'
I was surprised by just how much people appreciate a simple ‘thanks.’ Image credit : Association humanitaire SOS enfants

Results

Personal Happiness?

Did my frequent expression of gratitude result in higher overall happiness? My gut says no, but how does one measure this more accurately than a gut feel? I think it’s going to take much more noodling for me to give a better answer.

Spreading the Love

What does excite me is an unexpected result: I thanked people I wouldn’t normally have thought of thanking. Colleagues around the office were the most frequent recipients of my thank you notes. During the work week, it was pretty straightforward to look around the room, see someone I should thank, write out a card, and hand it over. Easy and worthwhile, and something I should have started doing a long time ago.

Weekends were more challenging–I don’t see as many people who obviously deserve my thanks. But I’m glad this is the case, because it forced me to think about how I should thank people who’d normally escape my attention, such as:

  • The veteran sailor at the local yacht club who, after decades of sailing, is still happy to help whomever he can, regardless of their experience level.
  • The young sailor who has shown up for every weekend in the last seven years. It turns out that the biggest challenge for our fleet is getting people to show up. Having one consistent person takes us a long way.
  • The clerk at the local wine shop who has been giving me great wine suggestions for the last half decade.
  • An old friend who’d recently lost his father. Combining a deepest regrets and thank you card was quite tricky indeed, but I’m confident I got it right. I dropped it off in his mailbox and received a thank you note in return, so I’m glad I reached out.

The list is longer, but you get the idea. Thanks to this experiment, my mind is more open about where my thanks is owed.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely, and I recommend it to anyone. It’s cheap and easy. I spent about four bucks on cards at the dollar store, five minutes of time each day, and a little extra cognitive overhead to set up daily reminders. In return, I created a lot of smiles and personally stretched my thinking. Not a bad return on investment!

Postscript

If you didn’t receive a card from me, it isn’t because I don’t value your involvement in my life. I most likely do. But thirty days only allows me to get to 30 people as part of this experiment. I’m sure I owe thanks to many more people beyond that.

 
Conversation
  • John Rumery says:

    Nice work Matt. I just interviewed a local executive for a story and she says that two of her daily habits (to maintain work/life balance) are to practice random acts of kindness and gratitude. Keep it up Matt.

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