Good morning! Am I the only one who’s excited that this post on happiness and gratitude is about, or at least inspired by, Hoda Kotb? When Joel McHale first introduced me to her through The Soup, I had no idea that years later I’d be crushing on her.
Before we get to the happiness and gratitude part, if all you know about Hoda is that she sips wine with Kathie Lee on the 4th Hour of the Today Show, let me share some tidbits about why you’d want to sip wine with her too. One, just out of college, she drove her mother’s car across the southeast, looking for a job at a TV station. She was rejected 27 times in 10 days before she found a station that would hire her. That’s crazy, amazing, inspiring resolve. Two, she’s reported on the front lines of crises, from war zones to natural catastrophes. Three and four, after beating breast cancer she realized she couldn’t be scared and asked for the job of her dreams, Today Show, rather than the safe job she’d been dutifully hustling for years, as an NBC National Correspondent and Dateline Anchor. Five, she shared this wisdom when talking about the 28th News Director, the one that did hire her: …as you go forward in life, everybody doesn’t have to love you. You just need one person. You only need one. And six, she’s a Hokie. (have you ever met a Hokie you don’t like? I liked one so much, I married him.)
With the US ranking 13th in happiness, how to attain it is a popular topic. Less than two years ago, the Today Show did a week-long series on happiness.
(Seeing that at 10 am eastern I am supposed to be working, you may be wondering when I find the time to watch the 4th hour of the Today Show. The answer: maternity leave. Besides all the obvious joy newborns bring, they bring another perk: indulging in my guilty pleasure of Today Show viewing.)
In this segment, Matt Lauer gushed that Hoda is one of the happiest people he knows. He asked her about her secrets. Three stuck me:
- Write down three things you feel grateful for daily
- Write down something great that happened in the last 24 hours
- Perform a random act of kindness
I vowed to model these three things. My third baby was 8 days old. It lasted 2, ok 1, day.
I recently came across Hoda’s advice again. This time, there was no I-have-an-8-day-old-baby excuse. So I adopted the practice. Each night I list: 3 things for which I am grateful, something great and a random act of kindness.
In the beginning, I felt like the things for which I am grateful had to be big and profound. If I was going to write it down – it had to be important! Those first few days, I listed things like:
- I am grateful for the large beautiful trees that fill our back yard and bring us oxygen (ok, that’s an exaggeration of what I actually wrote, but not far off), or
- I am grateful for participating in a group with a diverse set of women and gaining different experiences and perspectives (that one’s verbatim), or
- I am grateful for my access to quality and preventive healthcare.
As the days ticked on I ran out of grandiose things to list. I also felt like each day, the things for which I was grateful, had to be completely original. For example, if on a Monday I wrote that I was grateful for my husband, I couldn’t write that again on Thursday. This exercise, that was suppose to increase my happiness, felt like a job I dreaded. I knew my approach wasn’t sustainable.
One night, tired and just wanting to go to bed, but aware that I had committed to this, I abandoned my self-imposed rules and quickly scribbled down normal $hi%. It was like a few of my high schools days. Scribbling something down the morning an assignment was due, just to avoid turning in a blank sheet of paper.
- I am grateful for my conversation with the older gentleman at Trader Joe’s, or
- I am grateful for our clean house (after I cleaned it), or
- I am grateful for walking with a friend, or
- I am grateful for spending time with my youngest son today.
I looked at my hastily written page. The items that had previously been grand morphed to the mundane. I was left with the actions that make up my daily life. Re-reading what I wrote, I started to see the beauty in my daily activities.
The exercise that started as an activity I performed before bed, seeped into my days. It drove a perspective shift. Throughout the day, I started noting things for which I am grateful. It also helped me change the narrative in my head. It went from: (a) my entire weekend is dominated by kids’ activities to (b) I am grateful that I get to take my children to birthday parties and talk to other moms – I always learn something.
Besides changing my narrative, performing a random act of kindness every day requires awareness of the folks around me. It’s one thing to think of myself as a nice person. It’s another thing to actually make sure I’m being nice to others every day, which apparently is another factor that drives happiness. The thought that I had to face myself and my notebook that night kept me accountable and aware of my actual, not perceived, niceness.
There’s also something to ending the day by reflecting on all the good things that happened. There are still days where I have the big moment gratitudes: like a morning run where the beauty of the sky with the clouds and the sun peeking through are just the only thing that matters at that moment.
There are days where I am grateful that I got to take a hot shower (in clean water). There are days I get lost and forget about all the things for which I am thankful. I am grateful I now have an exercise that brings me back home on those days.
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