My travel companion and I finished breakfast at the restaurant and stood up to leave. But before going there was something I wanted to say.
“I’m grateful that we found this restaurant. There was no wait and we had nice seats looking out from this big window. And the staff was friendly and took good care of us.”
“Yes, it was just right. Thank you Restaurant,” said my friend reverently.
I was struck by his wholeheartedness and felt lucky to have this friend who didn’t find my expressed gratefulness silly or weird.
“Wow, thanks for saying that. I mean, thanks for really supporting me in my expression of gratitude.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for doing it,” he offered sincerely.
We laughed at the possibility of more recursive thank-you’s and walked out. As we did I wondered if anyone had overheard us: my friend thanking me, after I had thanked him, for thanking the restaurant, that I was grateful for. We sounded totally nuts.
I call these moments gratitude snacks — a moment where you stop to notice, name, and savor something to be grateful for. I aim to enjoy these gratitude snacks increasingly often and have good reason to.
A few months ago I underwent a week of intensive monitoring of my brainwaves. There I discovered that two of my lobes had unusually low activity compared to other parts of my brain, a pattern that was often found in people who, I was told, suppressed their joy.
The moment I heard this it rang true. I had a bad habit of not enjoying myself, of not enjoying the moment, because I thought such pleasure would hurt my productivity and get in the way of the many things I thought I had to do.
I also knew that I didn’t want to go on living this way. I knew, intellectually, that I had an amazing life filled with beautiful moments. But I was too often cut off from them. I was tired of not feeling these moments or even noticing them. I was tired of joylessly bustling past them to the next item on my never-ending list of to-dos.
The fastest antidote for this malaise? Gratitude.
Of course we’ve all heard before that practicing gratitude is a good and healthy thing to do. It’s been so bandied about in pop psychology that it may even sound a bit tired and cliché. But seeing gratitude’s effects on my brain quantified, in realtime, reminded me of its power.
Through EEG readings, processed by computers and displayed back to me, I was able to see that becoming grateful immediately increased activity in the suppressed regions of my brain. And by the end of the week, after logging hours of intentional gratitude and other positive emotions, my brain was consistently operating with about a 30% increase in certain frequency bands. And I felt noticeably happier too.
This foray into neuroscience wasn’t my first time discovering the power of gratitude. But despite the immense benefits of that practice I still fell out of the habit. This was partly because the increased well-being persisted for weeks even after I stopped doing it. It was also because I was practicing it alone, so there was no one to encourage me or notice when I’d stopped.
This time I want to maintain the habit. I want to enjoy moments of gratitude throughout the day. Enter the gratitude snack — the zero cost, zero calorie, pick-me-up, delicious alone but even better when enjoyed with friends.
I challenge you to try it. Ask a friend or coworker to begin gratitude snacking with you today. The effects seem to be cumulative, so try to nosh on gratitude snacks for at least the next week. By then you should feel noticeably better.
And if you ever see me somewhere — I’m entirely serious about this — please stop me and say, “Hey how about a gratitude snack?” And I will gladly share one with you.