Thank goodness: Gratitude may just be the secret to a happy life

    Gratitude in the leaves

    Can you train yourself to be happier in just five minutes a day? That’s the promise of the gratitude industry, a burgeoning school of thought that ascribes all kinds of benefits to feeling thankful — and not just at Thanksgiving. Various studies have shown that gratitude can help you make new friends, improve your health, sleep better and even ease depression.

    Jewish people, of course, have known this for centuries. Gratitude is central to Judaism; the Hebrew word “yehudim” translates as “the grateful ones.” First thing in the morning, we are expected to say the prayer “Modeh Ani” — literally, “I give thanks.” Every year at Seder night we sing “Dayenu,” a comprehensive list of all the things we had to be grateful for on the journey out of Egypt, set to a rollicking good tune.

    All of which might go some way towards explaining why, of all the various spiritual and quasi-spiritual practices I have tried since moving to the West Coast, a gratitude journal has felt like the easiest one to incorporate into daily life. It might be a buzzword in wellness right now, but for Jews, it’s already ingrained.

    Gratitude journal

    Getting started

    How to incorporate it into your life? There are plenty of gratitude journals on the market, but one of the simplest is the Five Minute Journal, $22.95, which includes a morning routine (“What would make today great?”) and an evening ritual (“3 Amazing things that happened today”) that, yes, take all of five minutes to complete. It’s an altogether more uplifting start to the day than wasting another five minutes scrolling through Instagram.

    Any old journal, or notebook will do, of course—although why not choose one with a picture of a menorah, or Happy Hanukkah on the cover?—and the same goes for apps. A school in New Jersey recently set its ninth graders the task of exploring one of four traits, including gratitude, with the help of an app. Some chose to download specific apps like 365 Gratitude; others, though, simply recorded their entries on Notes, and found it just as helpful.

    Flavors of Gratefulness

    But why stick to writing when you can chant? Rabbi Shefa Gold is a leader in the Renewal movement who is well known for her work in Hebrew chanting. Around three years ago, she launched the Flavors of Gratefulness app, which currently features 49 different melodies of Modeh Ani so that you can “wake up to gratefulness each day” as you chant along. (When it launched, the app had the same number of “flavors” as Baskin-Robbins ice cream; the next update will take this number to somewhere in the mid-sixties).

    “Gratefulness is my foundational practice,” she says. “It brings me to a place of receptivity. It leads me to every other practice in my life.”

    With subscribers all over the world, the app has certainly tapped into the current trend for gratitude, but for Rabbi Gold, it goes deeper than that. She regularly hears from people who have found that the app set them on a path to spiritual practice; and for Rabbi Gold too, it’s where everything starts.


    Susannah Cohen is a fashion journalist, e-commerce editor (specialist subjects: lingerie and diamonds) and Jewish mom. Recently relocated from London to the West Coast, she’s feeling a lot more spiritual these days.