The Science of Appreciation

It started with a plain blue-lined black notebook. One rainy Sunday afternoon a few years ago, I put on some great music, hauled out a stack of old magazines, and started cutting out pictures and words that spoke to me in some way. I then glued them to the front of the book, covered the whole thing with packing tape, and on the first inside page wrote “Appreciations.”

That afternoon was the start of a pretty incredible journey.

I began to keep track of all the things, large and small, that I felt appreciation for. The very first thing I ever wrote in that book was “this cup of tea” followed closely by “I fixed the kitchen drawer!”

What I noticed almost right away was that when I really started to think about my life through that lens, it was amazing how much I felt truly grateful for. Often they were small things that I felt were amplified by my appreciation of them. “That song sparrow in the garden” or “The way the light is coming through the window this morning.”

Some days it just flowed out of me and I quickly filled an entire page. In those moments, I felt on fire with appreciation. Other days it was more of a slog, but I consistently noticed that once I got started, I always felt better by the end. And the ripple effect was incredible. As I walked out into the world, I just felt better, lighter, happier. And it seemed that other people noticed too. I would often hear things like: “You look happy today!” or “Someone’s having a good day!”

While just feeling better would have been enough of a positive result for me, there was more. Within weeks, very cool out-of-the-blue things began to happen. The biggest was finding the perfect house (on Kijiji!)—without knowing I was even going to buy one—and having the entire process flow more smoothly than any homebuyer story I’ve ever heard, with not one glitch in the entire transaction.

I also had one lucrative project after another fall into my lap, niggly unfinished business suddenly got cleared up, and new opportunities appeared left, right, and centre, including a new friendship with a true kindred spirit who since that time has become increasingly important to me, both personally and professionally.

Each item within this cascade of wonderfulness had one thing in common. Ease. Problems solved themselves and opportunities appeared at just the right moment. I didn’t do a thing. It felt like I didn’t have to lift a finger.

This magical period of time was one of my first proof points that there really was something bigger than me involved in my life. It seemed vitally interested in what I was up to and was definitely on my side. It also seemed to like it when I practised appreciation (as evidenced by the flow of goodness).

If you haven’t experienced this, it can sound fantastical. How could such a slew of amazing things come out of something as simple as taking time first thing in the morning to jot down a few things that you appreciate? And I kind of love that about it. It is mysterious and fun and bizarre all at the same time, and if it didn’t happen to you, it might be hard to believe.

Rather than just anecdotal stories to go on, researchers are actually compiling evidence that proves our outlook affects the reality of our lives. I wrote about Harvard professor Shawn Achor a few weeks ago in a post about happiness. Through a decade of groundbreaking studies in the fields of positive pyschology and neuroscience, Achor has proven that happiness is the precursor to success. Rather than adhering to the formula that hard work leads to happiness, his research shows that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement.

And in the field of health and optimal functioning, Dr. Joe Dispenza is exploring how people can use the latest findings from neuroscience and quantum physics to not only treat illness but also to enjoy a more fulfilled and happy life. His research into people healing themselves of chronic conditions and even terminal diseases is mind-blowing.

It makes sense that today’s science is supportive. This is not new wisdom. After all, we have been hearing for eons that our thoughts have power and the key to happiness is inside ourselves.

“Happiness depends on ourselves.” Aristotle

“Nothing is either good or bad. But thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look.” Henry David Thoreau

While I love that I feel more in control of my life than ever before (rather than being tossed about by the winds of fate), what I most love is how much more present this practice makes me in general. But especially with my daughter.


I know she sometimes thinks all my notebooks with their scrawled appreciations are a little weird (as the note attests to!), but I also know that I’m giving her something precious when I take the time to connect with what is good in this world and in our lives. I see her do it every day, without even trying (children are amazing that way). Still, it’s nice to be able to mirror it back.


Originally published on my blog “This Sweet World”