Home » 21 Day Mini-Course: Establish a Gratitude Practice » Day 3: Decide What You Want to Feel

Day 3: Decide What You Want to Feel

Jumping Jacks
“We like to think of ourselves as reasonable creatures, but logic doesn’t motivate us nearly as much as our emotions do. We approach what feels good and avoid what feels bad.
–Michelle Segar, Phd

Today I want you to ask yourself not what you want to achieve in this program, but what, in your heart of hearts, you want to feel. Our goal is to identify a “why” for practicing gratitude that will motivate you over the long haul. This is MUCH easier for a gratitude habit than it is for, say, an exercise one, because there is a built in emotional motivation.

Before we dig into the emotions, though, we have to let go of our logical reasons for establishing this habit. Why? Because research shows that having a good, solid, logical reason for doing something—like wanting to improve your health and longevity—won’t usually motivate us over the long haul.

So look back at yesterday’s worksheets. Which SINGLE benefit of a gratitude practice feels the most rewarding to you in the short term? Look for positive emotions or feelings.

Shooting for a feeling-state that you want more of (maybe you want more happiness, confidence, or calm) will take you down a different path than setting your something important but vague, abstract, or far off in the future (like getting healthier or living longer).

Tons of research shows that emotions are more motivating—and far more rewarding—than any sort of achievement goal in the long run, e.g., if you were to set a goal to practice gratitude 30 days in a row. This means that feelings will best reinforce the behavior that we’d like to establish as a long-term habit.

I’ve tried about every type of gratitude practice out there. What I’ve learned is that I’m not a journaler. Tor me, trying to write in a gratitude journal nightly feels forced, and like a chore—it doesn’t actually foster much gratitude, and it does foster a bit of dread. The key for today’s exercise is to look at how various gratitude practices actually make you feel, rather than how you think you are “supposed to” feel after doing them.

HomeworkWhat To Do Today

Your task today is to decide on a single overarching thing that you want to feel when you practice gratitude (in addition to feeling gratitude, which is an emotion itself). Then, you’ll identify the practices that actually do make you feel that way.

Some parameters:

You really do need to pick just one motivator. Trust me on this one; the research is clear that more is not better here. A long list of reasons to practice gratitude will not be as effective as going for a single emotion (or category of emotions). I practice gratitude every day because it makes me feel connected.

Your “reason” for this habit needs to be a rewarding feeling that you experience when you are practicing gratitude, or at the very least, in the same day that you practice gratitude.

I’m going to say it again: logical, non-emotional, and long-term reasons for establishing any habit are ineffective. Most people need to look no farther than their own past for evidence of this.


Task #1: >If you haven’t already, try out some gratitude practices to see how they make you feel. The Greater Good Science Center is a great clearing house for gratitude practices take a look at what they recommend here.

If you try out some of the GGSC gratitude practices, the task today is just to notice how they make you feel. If they seem too long and involved for you, note that, too. We’ll need to make them much simpler (at least at first) in order to make them stick as a habit. (We’ll do that on Day 6).

Here are some of my favorite ways to practice gratitude in under a minute:

Take a photo with your phone of something that you feel like you couldn’t do without. This can be a person, place, event or object. Or the photo can be symbolic — for example, it can represent an event that you are glad happened. As you save the photo to a gratitude album (or app), imagine your life without that person, place, thing, or event. What would be different? What would you miss? Take a moment to feel thankful that this person, place, or thing actually IS in your life (or that the event happened).

Jot something down in a gratitude app or online gratitude journal. I use the Gratitude Journal created by Happy Tapper (It’s the only one I’ve ever tried; there are hundreds of these sorts of apps now.)

Change your answer. Chances are, someone will ask you how you are today. How will you answer? What if, instead of recounting all that is happening in your life—all the things that make most of us feel busy and overwhelmed—you use “How are you?” as a prompt to remember something you are grateful for? This can become a habit if, when you wake up in the morning, you reflect on how you will answer when someone asks you how you are. (I use the my gratitude app to jot this down, or I can’t seem to remember later in the day.) Then, when someone asks you how you are doing, pause for a moment and remember what you wrote in the morning. Then tell them about that.

Text someone a little gratitude note. What do you appreciate about them? Here’s a trick: thank them for something specific (“Thank you, son, for always remembering to bring the trash cans to the curb on Sunday night,”) and then link it their positive qualities (“You’ve become such a responsible young man! You’re so good at taking care of the details I tend to forget, and I’m grateful for that about you.

Tell someone what you appreciate about them face-to-face. This is a good one if you are living with a romantic partner.  Research suggests that a practice like this often leads to feeling more satisfied with our relationships. And as a bonus, and our partners tend to feel more connected to us and more satisfied with the relationship, too.

Task #2: Fill out the column labeled “How do you want to feel?” of the “Decide How You Want to Feel” worksheet in your workbook. Fill out the “Decide How You Want to Feel” worksheet in your workbook. When you tackle the second column (the one labeled Actions & Behaviors), stick to the activities that you already have experience with; we human beings tend to be truly terrible at predicting how something will make us feel. So instead of imagining how an activity might make you feel, go with what you already know.