Read together, these words seem like they’ve been randomly generated. But what unites them is that they are all things my friends are grateful for. I know this because they shared them in our gratitude group chat. (Also featured have been everything from doing nothing to phone calls, mechanics to mangoes, hammocks to muscles, and traffic lights to waves.)
The idea for this grateful group chat came from an unexpected fount of wisdom: one of the Jonas Brothers. In an article I stumbled upon, Joe Jonas revealed that posting in such a group was one of the secrets to his daily routine. Having previously found it difficult to practice gratitude regularly in a way which stuck, I asked three of my closest friends if they were up for giving this idea a go. They were, and with that, I whacked us in a group.
I’d rightly expected that being accountable to my friends would push me to keep up a daily gratitude practice. What I hadn’t been prepared for was how moving it would be to read what my friends were thankful for each day, and how positively that would elevate my own perception and mood. Even on my darkest days, reading about a friend’s gratitude for coffee (or for their dog, or for the internet) has helped retrain my brain to appreciate the small things within every day. Six months in, one of my friends put the experience of building this up best, saying that the group "changes how I see the world in a beautiful, gentle way."
The world's leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, has called this bonus of gratitude practice as building up "a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall." What's more, he writes, "there is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress."
This kind of communication couldn’t be more different to most of my daily messaging or visits to the quicksands of social media. The messages in our grateful group have tangibly deepened the bond between us, while keeping us regularly and naturally updated with goings-on in each other’s lives. The simple format of the group welcomes both the mundane and the maximal; sharing this spectrum with people provides real proximity. Emmons calls gratitude a “social emotion” and I’ve found that to be true. I am sure that this helps explain why I have found sharing gratitude with others, rather than confining it to the private pages of a journal, to make it a richer practice.
My friends and I are part of a bigger cultural moment of gratitude. Internet searches for “What is gratitude?” rocketed nearly sixfold between 2020 and 2021. In part, I think that this reflects how we’ve been more able to appreciate things we’ve had all along against the stark contrast of the pandemic. But I think it’s revealing of something else that’s become clearer with recent events: our desire to be more in control of how connected we feel to our lives and to others. The simple solution of a gratitude group chat has furnished my life with a steadfast source of this connection and appreciation, and that is something for which I am most grateful.
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