How a Year of 'Grateful' Facebook Posts Changed This Woman's Life

We’ve all seen it: the oft-dreaded Facebook status update of one word, “Grateful,” along with an envy-inducing photo of a Caribbean beachscape or a blissed-out couple selfie. But maybe there is more to it than making us all jealous. Australian news producer Lynne Scrivens, who just completed a yearlong experiment in posting daily gratitude updates — found love, sobriety, job satisfaction, and all-around happiness in the process.

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“When I saw a friend posting daily Grateful status updates on Facebook, I thought I should do it too,” Scrivens writes in an essay about her year of postings in the Australian publication Daily Life. “I knew the grateful project would help me get back on track. I just had a feeling.” Issues the 38-year-old wanted to tackle included drinking “too much, too often, alone,” having “dark, deep, depressing thoughts,” her “sparse” love life, and lack of exercise, she writes.

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Gratitude is, simply put, an affirmation of goodness, and it recognizes that there is good in the world, outside of ourselves, according to the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California. It has well-studied benefits and plays a major role in the recent field of positive psychology and in the study of happiness. Scrivens is not the first to try it daily. Several years ago, for example, Hailey Bartholomew (another Aussie, coincidentally), a depressed photographer and mother of two blogged about her gratitude through daily photos and called it "The 365 Grateful Project." It changed her life — and inspired a book and documentary.  

For Scrivens, diving into her project began with early status updates that included being grateful for exercise, air conditioning and praise from her boss. She then continued through 2013 by posting about details ranging from those clearly important — an afternoon with her sister, support from her friends during her three-month sobriety commitment, a relative’s clean bill of health after a scare — to the seemingly trivial, including a good book, rain boots, a productive day of errands, and front-row seats at a Beyoncé concert.

But the yearlong, cumulative effects of finding that one positive nugget daily wound up being major. Scrivens dug herself out of a career rut by leaving a longtime job in Sydney for one in Melbourne, a city where she’d always wanted to live. After struggling with alcohol, she found a healthy place of moderation — while also attending boot-camp classes several times a week. She made a new friend who set her up with a man, Todd, who was “cute and well dressed” and “interested and interesting;" and love blossomed and was made public on Facebook, and on day 363, she deemed him “a keeper.” (Cue that blissful-couple selfie!)

The results are not surprising to Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis, a psychology professor and gratitude expert and author (“Gratitude Works!”). He tells Yahoo Shine that it can indeed be life changing, even through Facebook, but you can get similar results by keeping a journal or finding another way to focus on being grateful. “The quality of our social relationships is the single most important factor in determining the quality of our lives, hence our happiness,” he says in an email. “And gratitude is the relationship-strengthening emotion. Gratitude tells us that we are supported and sustained by the kindness of others. It takes our attention off of ourselves and places it onto others. This is radical, because by nature we are self-absorbed and self-focused.”

But, he adds, there are myriad reasons why it’s not always easy to tap into — because humility, at gratitude’s core, is “profoundly countercultural,” and doesn’t come naturally in a culture that values self-aggrandizement and entitlement. “We are forgetful, so we can’t remember the ways in which we have been helped by others,” he explains. Plus, Emmons adds, people tend to minimize the contributions from others in order to take credit themselves, while also fearing that they’ll become dependent on or indebted to others. But its gifts, he stresses, are boundless.

Scrivens acknowledges that in the final post of her experiment on Dec. 31st. “I’m grateful for this project. I’m grateful for my friends for tolerating it. It’s amazing how long I spent each day thinking about what I was grateful for,” the post reads. “Did it make a difference? Yes. It forced me to look on the bright side of life, even on crappy days… And I’m heading into 2014 with a great big smile, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

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