Saying Goodnight with Gratitude
By Ta Bennett

“I want to try something, and I’d like for you to do it with me.”
I said this to my partner as we laid next to each other in bed one restless night back in June. At the time, I was consumed by stress and worry over various negative circumstances that were beginning to wreak havoc on my sense of well-being.

Sudden drastic changes at my company had led me to question my job security. Family drama that I had long avoided threatened to show up at my front door with baggage in tow. As we approached our third-year anniversary, my love of three years and I were going through our first serious rough patch. I also felt increasing pressure to be doing more with my life than my current financial reality would allow (travel, retirement savings, investment in superficial but socially applauded indicators of success, etc.). Oh, and have you read or listened to the news lately? Talk about depressing! To top it off, I hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep for the previous few weeks due to my mind racing around these and other issues.

I was in dire need of some relief in a situation where I had limited control over my stressors. Fortunately, after looking into healthy methods for dealing with my frustrations, I had an exercise in mind that I thought would help.

“Um… alright.” he replied tentatively. “What would you like to try?”
“Every night before we go to sleep, I would like for us to take turns sharing:
– at least one thing that we were grateful for today,
– at least one thing that we accomplished today, and
– at least one goal or positive thing we look forward to accomplishing/experiencing tomorrow.
Does that sound like something you would be willing to do with me?”, I asked.
“Sure, I’d like that. It’s actually a great idea.”, he replied.

And so began our nightly gratitude ritual. Why bother with the second and third reflections if this is considered an exercise in gratitude, you ask? Because I felt that acknowledging my wins, no matter how small, and expressing hopefulness for the future would help to reinforce my sense of gratitude. (Hint: It has.)
Much to my surprise, we have successfully maintained this ritual every night since then – even when one of us was traveling (shout out to my girl, Technology). Each night during our statement of gratitude, we both make a point to thank each other for any act of kindness or caring performed during the day. We typically end our declarations of appreciation, accomplishment, and aspiration with an exchange of “I love you. Goodnight.” It usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes, and is easily one of my favorite parts of any given day – good or bad.

And guess what? Three months into this experiment, I am happy to report that my self-esteem has been lifted, my length and quality of sleep has significantly improved, my entire day is no longer derailed by a single failure or frustration, the communication around any difference between me and my partner is healthy af, and I am better able to process life’s inevitable stressors in a way that no longer overwhelms me. To be clear, I am still working through the issues I mentioned earlier. But I can honestly say that, despite those issues, I am much happier and at peace with my current reality than I was before I began the consistent practice of viewing my life through a lens of gratitude.

Apparently, these positive side-effects are not uncommon. While reading up on the subject of gratitude as part of my personal research, I found plenty of support for my nightly pastime via its impressive list of long-studied benefits:

– When practiced before going to sleep, making statements of gratitude gives a calming perspective that can slow down a racing mind. This leads to better sleep and, therefore, better focus, energy, and overall health.
– Expressing gratitude to a loved one makes them feel appreciated and, in turn, leads them to note the ways in which they value you. This encourages a positive feedback loop that strengthens the shared bond in a relationship.
– Studies have shown that thinking of things you are grateful for boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is what Prozac does. It also boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine, much like the antidepressant Wellbutrin.
– Over time, learning to view your life’s experiences with a sense of gratitude increases your sense of self-worth and make makes you a more resilient individual.

And did I mention it’s free? Anyone can benefit from incorporating gratitude into their routine. If you’re not in a relationship and are unable to find some other accountability partner, keep a nightly gratitude journal. If nights don’t work for you, start your day with it. If you’re having difficulty thinking of something to be grateful for, something you accomplished, or something to look forward to, start small: I am grateful for the fact that I survived today’s unpleasant events. I got out of the bed this morning, which felt like an accomplishment. I am making it my goal to look in the mirror tomorrow morning and say three kind things about myself.

It doesn’t really matter how “well” you do it. Studies have shown that the simple act of searching for the positive in a negative situation is an incredibly effective coping mechanism, regardless of whether or not you actually come up with anything. All you have to do is try.
Establishing a nightly gratitude ritual will probably not be a magic cure-all for your depression, insomnia, relationship woes, social and economic anxieties, and what have you. Life often requires us to put up a stronger fight, and that’s okay! Therapy is my JAM, you hear me? Sometimes our toxic circumstances require urgent change instead of viewing them through rose-colored glasses. And depending on your chemistry, medication may be a godsend. Everyone is different! So, by all means, do you.
At the very least, you may wish to implement a gratitude ritual as a supplemental form of self-care in light of whatever grievances you may be dealing with. Because, when practiced with regularity, gratitude has the power to shift our thought patterns towards a positive default that truly changes the way we process negative experiences. There is a Melody Beattie quote that I believe sums it up best:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

It is exactly this “fullness of life” that I was desperately seeking as I stared up at the ceiling in the darkness of my bedroom several months ago, mind racing – the same fullness of life that I am now moving closer and closer towards achieving every day. That fullness of life is what I wish for anyone taking the time to read this who may feel inspired to start saying goodnight with gratitude.