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A Thought Experiment: “What If I Lost Everything…” (How To Use A Gratitude Journal)

02/18/2014

in Productivity, Stories

Imagine waking up tomorrow and not having any of the comforts that you’ve worked hard for years to obtain or the support systems that you’ve become completely dependent on and accustomed to.

  • You have no money in your bank account.
  • No network of friends or family to help you.
  • No degree to fall back on.
  • No clue what you want out of life.

What would you do? How would you begin to piece your life back together?

Many of us would crumble emotionally. We’d completely shut down.

But once you consider what it would feel like to lose everything, you truly begin to see how many advantages you actually have.

Take a deep breath, and quietly ask yourself right now, “What would I do if I lost everything?”

The concept sounds scary — but believe it or not, you’d only need one tool to piece it all back together.

It all starts with gratitude

If I lost absolutely everything tomorrow, I’d only need one thing to start rebuilding myself.

Gratitude.

At the beginning of the year, we talked about my goals and objectives for 2014. One of them was to begin keeping a gratitude journal filled with everything I’m thankful for on a daily basis.

Here are the two best reasons for keeping a gratitude journal:

First, it’s always energizing to think about the aspects of your life that you love and the reasons you’re happy to be alive. In fact, research has shown that simply adopting a positive mindset can actually increase your real-life happiness, productivity and overall health.

Gratitude and happiness act as feedback system. The more grateful you are for your life (even the little things), the happier you become. The happier you are, the healthier and more productive you get — and that brings more gratitude. The cycle starts anew.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to start that feedback loop.

The next reason for keeping a gratitude journal is even more powerful than just the cultivation of a positive mental outlook.

Simply put, forcing yourself to name people and things you’re grateful for actually challenges your brain to think about what life would be like without these things — and then come up with creative solutions.

Oftentimes, we let our “idea muscles” grow weak. We don’t practice coming up with creative solutions. We stop thinking of innovative ways to solve problems. But coming up with solutions to our problems is a skill, just like any other. We must practice using this part of our brain.

A James Altucher talks about the link between gratitude, creativity and happiness in his “Daily Practice.”

I use my gratitude journal as a catalyst to spark my “idea muscles.” Once before I wake up, and once again before I go to sleep, I pull out my journal and write down at least 10 things I’m grateful for.

I try to think of 10 different things in the morning and 10 new ones in the evening. Even “little wins” like, “I got to wear my favorite shirt today” count. Always acknowledge the little things.

Then I use that positive energy to come up with solutions for the problems I’m dealing with.

Start your gratitude journal, right here on Hack The System

Let’s start our gratitude journals, right here. Together.

Here’s what I want you to do.

  1. Ask yourself, “What would I do if I lost everything?”
  2. After considering what it would be like to lose everything, write 10 things that you’re very grateful for in the comments. Bonus points if they were things that you hadn’t taken the time to appreciate until today.

I can’t wait to read everyone’s. After you start, I’ll add my list of 10 as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

{ 27 comments… }

Tyler March 10, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Timely to find this post. In the last three months I’ve lost a lot (everything except family, basically).

But I’m thankful right now, for:
1. my sympathetic wife
2. my faithful family
3. the changing of the seasons
4. the self-discovery process taught by yoga
5. 7 minute workouts
6. the Internet’s ubiquity in 2014
7. my knowledge and experience
8. the equalizing nature of electronic communication
9. the cognitive multiplier effect of habits
10. my naively optimistic, resilient nature

Reply

Heather K February 25, 2014 at 2:53 am

1. A roof over my head
2. Food to eat
3. A job I love
4. Hobbies and interests I love even more than my job
5. The freedom and ability to travel
6. Kick-ass friends who explore the outdoors and world with me.
7. A family who loves and supports me, even if they don’t always agree with how I choose to live my life.
8. A growing “tribe” online of people who are interested in reading what I have to say.
9. Coffee. I love it. I am SO happy I live in Portland, OR so I can drink amazing cuppa joes every day if I want.
10. Whiskey. My other main vice. Especially Pappy Van Winkles when I can find it.

Reply

rachman February 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I’m grateful for…

Amazing friends like Maneesh
The freedom to do what I want
People giving me their precious time to make them laugh!

Reply

Susanne February 21, 2014 at 8:54 am

1. My computer, it’s not brand new, but it’s new to me, and wow, it’s a lot faster than the one I had before.

2. My husband, who makes me laugh. (This list is obviously in no particular order of importance.)

3. My three cats, who also make me laugh.

4. Having wonderful kids

5. Working from home with something I enjoy, at least most of the time.

6. The car starts! Always a good sign.

7. Have plenty of food in the fridge.

8. It’s not raining today.

9. Fridays, grateful for fridays.

10. I am healthy, I – like so many others – forget to be grateful for my health. I don’t appreciate it enough.

Reply

Michael February 21, 2014 at 5:06 am

My gratitude journal for today
1. The sun is shining (after the UK’s rainy season this is to be celebrated!)
2 days (and evenings!) are getting longer
3. Spring is round the corner.
4. I have a cost bedroom I woke up I’m a couple of hours ago.
5. I love in a lovely house.
6. I have relaxed, friendly and intelligent housemates.
7. I am meeting my gorgeous girlfriend tonight.
8. I am getting well paid this evening to play the piano, which is my passion and my job. Not job -vocation.
9. Before that I get to coach a highly appreciative student.
10. I have this morning free to shape as I wish and make progress towards my dreams of a music career.

Reply

Ron February 21, 2014 at 2:05 am

1. I have at least 10 really good friends. It’s easy to forget, and I don’t see them all as often as I’d like, but damn I am lucky in that department.
2. Family
3. Awesome Girlfriend
4. A business in a field that I am truly passionate about that is supporting me and growing.
5. NOT working a ‘job’.
6. Ability to learn new things quickly.
7. Music; playing, listening, everything.
8. Living in the Goddamn Future. (a.k.a. Technology!)
9. I have burned the proverbial boats on living a normal, middle-class life. Onward and upward.
10. I am 28 and have had the privilege of having so many rich and amazing experiences in my life, yet I know my best days by far are yet to come.

Reply

Morten February 20, 2014 at 5:34 pm

My gratitude list:

1) I have great friends

2) I am breathing and alive

3) I am healthy

4) I have money to spend

5) I get food everyday

6) I am me and not someone else

7) I worked in a job I hated, which lead me
to start my own business

8) I was depressed for a long time, which lead me to discover what it truly means to be happy

9) I can see and hear

10) I have a lot of freedom in my life

Reply

Siobhan February 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Your email arrived at the perfect time.
My gratitude list:

1. My amazing partner bringing me a delicious strong latte in bed.
2. Opening the curtains and being greeted by the sunshine.
3. Walking down to the beach.
4. Watching the skate boarders practising.
5. Doing yoga.
6. Clean running water.
7. Ability to run and skip.
8. Taking photo’s
9. Public Transport
10. Kissing my partner

Reply

Carlos February 19, 2014 at 3:45 am

My 10 thing list:
1- My family
2- My friends
3- My dog
4- Sun
5- English knowledge (I am spaniard)
6- My city
7- The financial independece I have
8- The optionality I enjoy in my life
9- The appropriate mindset to take care of my body and nutrition
10- Being around people and interacting with them

Reply

RJ Bryan February 18, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Ive thought about this before- A few months after graduating college I wasn’t working a 9-5 and my 1st business wasn’t make the “BIG BUCKS” . Still, I was fine. Why? because of…
1. The support of my family
2. Friends who believed in me
3. My confidence
4. My ability to get back up
5. Living in NYC
6. Subway system (My monthly Metro Card lol)
7. My education and past experience with different cultures
8. My grandparents, mother and aunt (I know i said family but i think they deserve a special shout out )
9. The internet
10. Inspiration

Reply

SamServ February 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Highly recommend HappyRambles for a gratitude journal. You get an email everyday and you reply it with things you’re grateful for. Perfect for those obsessed with ‘inbox zero,’ but also works for the rest of us. No log-ins, no password, no fuss – just reply from your inbox and done!

Reply

Ivan February 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm

I’m grateful for reading this today, and have this huge feeling of gratitude for everything in my life. In no particular order:

1. My parents, brother and their well-being
2. My body and health
3. My 5 dogs that welcome me home every time I drive in.
4. My friends.
5. Every trip I have ever taken.
6. Clean water to drink and live.
7. The Crossfit gym I just opened with my brother, and the people that we get to help improve and be friends with.
8. A home to live in, and clothes to wear.
9. Food and mindful eating :)
10. Having the chance of receiving education and learning a second language.

Reply

Asia February 18, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I woke up this morning to find your email waiting, so here’s an AM gratitude list.

1. The first thing I see every morning is the ocean.
2. Then I remember I’m in Mexico and I giggle with glee.
3. I throw on some shorts but can’t find any shoes. A good thing, because I probably left them on the beach yesterday. I’ll just walk back down there to look for them, no biggie.
4. I grab a cup of coffee for the morning walk. It’s some off brand instant crystals, but everything is more delish with an ocean view.
5. On the table sits a picture that a neighbor brought over (so nice of her.) It’s of my grandpa and I at the bar last week and aww, I love it!!!
6. I walk down the road past brightly painted houses and vibrant boquets of bougainvillea, geraniums, purslane, and cactus. My heart beats intense with color-induced joy spasms.
7. The sun.
8. Doggies dance at my heels and whap-whap-whap their excited tails against my legs and run circles as we mosey down to the beach. Nothing says “happy” quite like a puppy on the beach.
9. I love the steep spiral stone steps leading down to the water, because running back up them as fast as I can burns so good.
10. What eludes me are the words to express just how thankful I am for loving myself enough to feel that I deserve all of the good things I have in my life.

Thanks Maneesh for reminding me about gratitude lists. I’m so pumped! Cheers!

Reply

Josh February 18, 2014 at 3:29 pm

1. 3 hilarious kids
2. An amazing wife that makes me laugh and loves me in a way I never thought possible.
3. Self awareness and being willing to face things I need to work on. Not sure how I got this, but very grateful for it!
4. Cars that are paid off and reliable (even though they’re both >200k miles)
5. A motorcycle that I love riding
6. Loyal friends that I connect deeply with
7. The sweetest and most fun dog that needs more attention
8. Great mentors that have poured into me over the past 20+ years to make me a better man
9. Fun projects for work with great clients
10. A great house that meets our needs right now

Man! I feel so good :)

Reply

Fábio Póvoa February 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm

1- having been born in a marvelous family.
2- that my mom forced me to study English at such an early age.
3- a healthy body: vision, legs, mind, a good night sleep.
4 – 2 people in my life: my wife and my daughter.
5 – the unconditional love of my 3 dogs.
6 – the entrepreneurial mind that kicked me into starting up right after finishing Computer Engineering.
7 – my analytical skills and hability to use a spreadsheet.
8 – a small group of close friends, that pass the test of time and distance.
9 – UC Berkeley, for granting me a full scholarship.
10- my former business partner, for painfully forcing me to grow as a business men after firing me ;-);

Reply

Rhia February 18, 2014 at 2:50 pm

I’m just impressed you manage to do your gratitude journal in the morning BEFORE you wake up…typo! 😉

More seriously, 10 things…
1. My awesome friendships
2. Being able to do a job I love every day
3. Having the time to pursue my passion
4. Having free access to the knowledge of you and other experts via the internet
5. Music
6. The ability to question everything
7. Being able to read
8. Electricity – amazing!
9. Freedom of speech
10. Cute cats videos on youtube

Reply

Clare February 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Good post – and I particularly like the bit about appreciating the small things. I think I might give this a try.
So my ten things are:
1) working from home
2) having the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone
3) being able to walk my dog through the woods
4) my cats
5) my husband
6) a forthcoming opportunity to travel
7) the power to change things
8) my car is fixed!
9) a new notebook
10) new friends turning out to be good friends

Reply

Asia February 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm

1. The first thing I see every morning is the ocean.
2. Then I remember I’m in Mexico and I giggle with glee.
3. I throw on some shorts but can’t find any shoes. A good thing, because I probably left them on the beach yesterday. I’ll just walk back down there to look for them, no biggie.
4. I grab a cup of coffee for the morning walk. It’s some off brand instant crystals, but everything is more delish with an ocean view.
5. On the table sits a picture that a neighbor brought over (so nice of her.) It’s of my grandpa and I at the bar last week and aww, I love it!!!
6. I walk down the road past brightly painted houses and vibrant boquets of bougainvillea, geraniums, purslane, and cactus. My heart beats intense with color-induced joy spasms.
7. The sun.
8. Doggies dance at my heels and whap-whap-whap their excited tails against my legs and run circles as we mosey down to the beach. Nothing says “happy” quite like a puppy on the beach.
9. I love the steep spiral stone steps leading down to the water, because running back up them as fast as I can burns so good.
10. What eludes me are the words to express just how thankful I am for loving myself enough to feel that I deserve all of the good things I have in my life.

Thanks Maneesh for reminding me about gratitude lists. I’m so pumped right now! Cheers!

Reply

Wayne February 18, 2014 at 12:35 pm

In no particular order:

1. NPR
2. Living in a place with a beautiful view (I am grateful for this every day)
3. Being able to share some personal struggles with a friend over breakfast
4. Having the ability to run
5. My ability to start conversations
6. The little money that I do have
7. Season 2 of Vikings and The Americans on the horizon
8. Chewing gum
9. The weather in Miami today
10. Green tea (or the perception of what green tea does for me)

Reply

Tony Law February 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

If I lost everything:
I’m kind of in that boat now. Not making enough income to pay bills.
Here’s what I’m doing: I’m going to get a job I don’t really want to do to get financially stable. Then, on the side, weekends, nights, I’ll work on the projects I want to do until it affords me to quit the job I don’t like. But having financial stability is something I need now.

10 Gratitudes:

1. Clean water to drink
2. Hot coffee
3. The internet
4. Amazing girlfriend
5. Family that lives close by
6. Friends I can play with
7. I live 7 minutes away from the most beautiful beach
8. A warm, cozy apartment to live in
9. Sunny days
10. Tons of food in my fridge to eat.

Gratitudes are amazing to do in the morning. You start off your day in a great mood and remember the little things in life that make you happy. Often times, these little things are free and readily available.

I like using Day One app for journaling my gratitudes.

Another daily thing I do in addition to gratitudes is ‘why affirmations.’

Daily affirmations in the form of ‘why.’
Example:
“Why am I amazing at playing basketball?”
“Why am I a great partner to my spouse?”
“Why does everybody love me and respect me ?”

Asking yourself ‘why’ instead of just stating the affirmation, ‘people love me’, forces your brain to really dig deep and reinforce yourself why the affirmation is true.

Reply

Nicolas February 18, 2014 at 10:51 am

I have been doing this for a month now. After I saw in a movie a scene of a girl saying her prayers and I thought, mm maybe religion knows something about this (I am not very religious).

But taking the time to say your prayers (or write a gratitude journal) every night, forces you to see the positive on you day before you go to bed.

I do 3 small drawing of nice things that I am grateful for on that day. I find that drawing helps me picture and relive the experience, and also, since it takes me a bit more time than writing them down, I get to be in gratitude more for a while longer.

Reply

Manish Suwal 'Enwil' February 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

1. Being able to breathe.
2. Having eyes to see this beautiful world.
3. Ability to learn new things.
4. Having other human beings near me.
5. Being able to communicate with others.

Reply

kayvee February 18, 2014 at 9:57 am

Hi All,

This is a great post Maneesh. Thanks as always.

1) If I lost everything, I would do what you said. Start by looking at the things good in my life. the fact that I am still alive and have my health and body. Losing material things is no big deal because you can always get it back. I would practice gratitude and hope. I would go to the library or online and begin feeding my mind good self development books.
I would look at why I may have lost everything. I would look for patterns and then do some inner work to release any negative patterns or beliefs. I could go on but I will keep it short for now.

2) I am grateful for the following 10 things. By the way, the more things I come up with that I am grateful for, the more things I can think of. I realise that there are so many little things that I have not given gratitude for, such as hot water, the internet, my fridge, soap, trees etc etc etc.

The way I like to generate a list of things I am grateful for is to just write freely, without analyzing it. Its like a brainstorming session.

So….here are 10 things I am grateful for:

-Money (the ability to buy things)
-Time
-Hot showers (especially in winter)
-Food
-my fridge (helps me store food for long periods)
-The supermarket (so much choice and variety, I feel like a king browsing all the aisles deciding what to choose.)
-My legs and hands
-My wife (im not writing in order of importance, I am just “free writing”)
-my family and friends
-the ability to think
-the ability to read and learn new things
-etc etc etc etc etc

This was fun

Thanks Maneesh

Reply

Danielle February 18, 2014 at 9:55 am

I had a gratitude moment this morning when I took my dog out. It’s a tad blizzard-y in Toronto today and I was thinking ‘I’ve had enough of winter this year…”. Right after, I shifted the thought to positive and remembered when I used to come in from walking the dog and get ready to go into a job that I hated. Now that I work at home, I get to eat my breakfast while checking emails (like the one for this blog post!) and then start on work I enjoy. Anyway, here are my 10:
1. My immediate family – mom, dad, brother and his girlfriend
2. My very supportive fiancee
3. My dog doing his business quickly when it’s cold out!
4. Positive virtual co-workers
5. Projects that I’m excited to work on
6. I have a lot of good, healthy food in the kitchen right now
7. The freedom to decide today if I want to go to Europe in the spring… and not having to ask a boss for time off
8. My laptop is fully functional right now!
9. I have a few ‘good’ outfits to choose from today
10. A good book to read once I’m done my work today

I actually feel more motivated just from typing those and am definitely incorporating this into my every day routine. Thanks, Maneesh!

Reply

kayvee February 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Hi Danielle,

I miss Toronto…I am in Halifax now.

May I ask what you do?

Reply

Kavi February 18, 2014 at 9:28 am

1. my parents for their unconditional love
2. my mind for enabling me to think rationally
3. my health for allowing me to enjoy life
4. my partner who forces me to be a better person
5. animals for making me realise that we are all part of the ecosystem
6. the Earth for the constant sense of amazement
7. books for accessing knowledge
8. my 5 senses for letting me take in life
9. my heartbreaks for making me stronger
10. technology for making life richer (if used properly)

Reply

Josh February 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

Before I start my list, I just want to say that I recently went through an upheaval in my friends. I discovered some of them were less than trustworthy. And luckily, I discovered a few that I didn’t think I could count on, but who have been there for me. So my list definitely starts with those people.

1. My friends
2. My music (I listen probably 4 hrs/day)
3. My jeans fitting again (25lbs in 6 weeks!)
4. Rock climbing
5. A sense of control over my life
6. My drive to keep improving
7. My time to explore my curiosities
8. My skills and knowledge (my biggest fear is being helpless)
9. My climbing shoes (they just grip so well)
10. My sense of fashion (I like to dress up for class)

Reply

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