Gratitude Experiment

at the end of last year, i asked some friends to do a gratitude exercise with me.  each day for a month i had everyone make a list of 10 things for which they were grateful. i ended up writing a lot about it. here's some of my correspondence with the group.


if you're getting this email, that means you and me, we close. and i want to do a little experiment and i think it's something you might be interested in.

some of you feel great.  others maybe not so great.  for a few of you life is about to change in obvious and profound ways.  but no matter what your current circumstance, for better or for worse, life is always changing for all us.  

one of the main things the big buddha said was "expect change."

but we can't control what happens around us, only within us.

so i practice how to feel calm and peaceful and gentle inside.  it's not easy and i don't think it's something that can be perfect.  but i do believe it's something we can cultivate. 

i think we can feel luckier and happier and more purposeful if we practice being grateful.  and i wonder if we can make gratitude our default response to situations in our daily life .... reacting and responding with gratitude instead of resentment, frustration, defense, fear, anxiety, stress. 

my theory is that the more we practice being grateful, the more and more we'll realize and feel how lucky we are.

i think i could start listing things for which i feel grateful and never stop.  i truly believe the list is infinite.  but for some reason we tend to focus on the few things that don't feel good.  i don't have enough money.  i don't like the way i look.  my relationship (or lack thereof) doesn't feel good.  my friends are pissing me off.  life is not the way i want it. whatever it is, our minds focus on the things that aren't satisfying and we take for granted the infinite number of things that are truly amazing.

i wonder if we can change that and train ourselves to become more aware of how much there is to feel grateful for.  and i'm curious to know that if we live from a place of gratitude, will it inspire us or will we get more complacent?

so now what?  here's what im asking from you.

the gratitude experiment

there are three rules.

1. each day for 30 days, you make a list of TEN things you for which you are grateful.  you do not have to send this list to me.  these lists are for you.  i might send a daily reminder via email ... if you want to respond saying you did your list, that would be terrific. but the rule is that it has to be EVERY DAY.

2. for each thing you list, you close your eyes and think about it for 15-20 seconds.  you let these things wash over you.  you feel them fully. 

3. no repeats.

this whole process should take about 5 minutes of your day.

your list can and should be anything, big or small, that inspires gratitude.

for example, im truly grateful for indoor plumbing. indoor plumbing is a luxury that makes life much more comfortable.  and not to mention toilet paper! that will be on my list today. 

or, i'm grateful for roads.  roads are amazing and i can get in my car and drive to each one of you and we can hug the shit out of each other. and roads get to me golf courses. and to maine. it's easy to take them for granted.

i can also list each one of you and the many reasons you fill me with joy and courage and love and support.

after we do this for 30 days, i'll be interested in hearing from you to see if you feel any changes in your perspective.  my assumption is that you will feel different .... that if you PRACTICE gratitude and work that muscle, it will get stronger and feel more effortless.  

ok.  that's it.  

- Rob

** i ended some sentences with prepositions.  i apologize if that offends you.

*** one more thing.  if you feel some cynicism about an exercise like this, i totally understand. but i would say it's even more interesting for you to take part in it. 


hello again.

tomorrow will be the first day of the gratitude experiment, and i couldn't think of a better group of people to do it with.  

i'm really curious how 30 days of practiced gratitude will make you feel.  what happens to you when you're more grateful?  what happens to the people around you?  what does your life look and feel like? in my personal experience, i think things change profoundly.  

most things that you practice ... yoga, meditation, running, prayer, jazzercise ... it's more about how it makes you feel when you're not doing the work.  meditation isn't about the 15 or 20 minutes you sit quietly, it's about how it affects the rest of your day. i think gratitude is the same way.  

you might have trouble thinking of things for which you're grateful .... or you might think you didn't do a "good" list one day.  but try to eliminate any judgement (i'm legit grateful for doritos). the most important part of this experiment is consistency .... consistency especially in the face of the moods or times when you can't be bothered to make your list.

i feel a little strange about asking people to do this.  there's a piece of me that worries what you'll think of me, that maybe this is stupid.  but there's a bigger part of me that feels strongly about this .. that some of you might really benefit ... and that i'll benefit.  anything that makes us look a little more at the beauty in the world can't be a bad idea.

a couple suggestions.

- make your list all at once, not piecemeal throughout the day.  i like the concentrated dose of gratitude and the effects it has..  but i think one of the most important parts of this experiment is challenging yourself to become aware of things that you feel grateful about and looking for those things, not waiting for them to present themselves.

- no repeats means that in 30 days, you'll have written down 300 different things.

- if you're truly grateful for it, you'll know it in the moments when you close you eyes and really think about.  it's a strange sensation to realize how lucky you feel about things you've taken for granted or which you haven't been aware. 

thanks for doing this with me.


day 3.  here's an article sent from one of our listers.

lots of good stuff in here. if you have 5 minutes, it's worth a read.

my favorite point about gratitude in this article:  it's the searching that counts.  gonna make my list now.

hope everyone is having a good day. 


one week down.

how's everyone doing?  anyone struggling with this?  having trouble getting your lists done every day?  

does it feel good to do your list?  or like an obligation?

sometimes when i'm having trouble with a list, i'll take something or someone and write 10 reasons why i'm grateful for it or him/her.  it works just the same way.  and throwing on some good music while i make my lists gives them a different color. 

here's something i read this morning about gratitude:

"Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait—more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness. People who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health."

and that's from scientists. i would like someone to describe my physical health as "robust."   

have a good start to the week.

- Bob


today my entire list was my favorite things to eat.

falafel, right??  ooph. hard to be in a bad mood when i'm thinking about falafel.  

if you're struggling, make your lists fun.  make them about food. or your favorite moments from your childhood, or the best places you've traveled. or the 10 best concerts you've seen.

there's literally an infinite number of things to feel grateful for and we create more every by tapping into that gratitude.


it's 70 and sunny here in brooklyn today.  it's october 29th.  i think it's a good thing.  im feeling pretty good about it.  i'll get outside a bit.  because, ya know, winter is coming (for those of us in the northeast).


do you think there's a part of us that doesn't want to feel good?  or is afraid to feel good?   there's a piece of me that feels that maybe i don't deserve it. or that if i start to feel really good that i'll have something to lose.  

sometimes i think back to times when i felt really bad. and i wonder if i'm still that person.  it's easy for me to get lost in those feelings.

where does that come from?  i'm working hard to fix it.  working hard to stay present and grateful and healthy and giving. 

it's hard to be a person.  these lists help me with that.  you guys help me with it.  thanks for doing this with me.

- Bob


here's something else that helps me.  it's keith jarrett performing "somewhere over the rainbow" on the piano and it's one of the most beautiful things i've ever heard.

more tomorrow.


here's a quote i just read that i really like. 

“I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain


im tired today. i shouldn't be.  we got an extra hour of sleep this weekend.

maybe it's because i watched my best friend run the NYC marathon yesterday and im having sympathy fatigue.  it's probably because i spent the last 2 nights at madison square garden seeing the grateful dead.

it's hard to feel lucky and grateful and inspired when you're exhausted.

but i practice anyway.  and i feel better.  lighter.  energized.

after doing this for 2 weeks, i find that my gratitude comes easier.  quicker.  it's becoming clearer, the things i take for granted.  

some of these things are so ubiquitous .... like electricity or running water or the ability to run or hug someone you love.  

most of us don't appreciate these things until we are without them.  but that's why we practice. we notice more. we're more aware. 

and the stronger our awareness of how lucky we are ... the more we train ourselves to notice the things that make us so fortunate .... the more we become the light.

the point is not to find the light, it is to be the light.  i really believe this.  that's  probably why they call it "enlightenment."

we're surrounded by things for which we should be grateful ... and my guess is that most of you are creating new things every day that encourage gratitude.

i wonder if any of you will continue this after the experiment.   what happens to your life if you spend a small part of it, every day, recognizing how incredible the universe is?  and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to experience it together?

was easy to feel that way this weekend in a room with a bunch of old and young deadheads celebrating the music of one of the greatest bands of all time.  it was good vibes. really good vibes.  gonna try to spread some of those today.

"turn on your love light, and let it shine on me" - they didnt play that this weekend but they should have.  maybe next weekend.


i worry sometimes that this gratitude experiment might be disingenuous.

there's something saccharine about forced gratitude. and there's something insincere about someone who is overwhelmingly grateful.  nobody wants to be imposed upon.  and most of us can smell bullshit from a mile away.

i want my gratitude without pretense. i don't want to be excessive with it.

i think the goal of this, for me, is a quiet and sincere acknowledgment of how lucky i am.  it's something i try not to force upon anyone else (unless i ask you to make lists with me for 30 days) but rather something i hope people can sense from me. 

that doesn't mean i don't experience sadness or anxiety or fear or anger, envy, insecurity, judgement.  im trained to feel those things. like the shame i feel when i end sentences with prepositions.

our circumstances change constantly.  but if we practice gratitude, we'll be able to maintain a sense of peace somewhere deep within despite the change.

buddhists and other meditation practitioners like the metaphor of a storm on the ocean.  the surface is wild and hectic and tumultuous.  but deep down at the bottom of the sea, it's quiet and calm.

i think that's what gratitude points towards. or rather, i think that's towards what gratitude points. is that right?  shit. 

at least i hope that's what happens.

there's nothing wrong with feeling happier and lighter and less affected. and i'll keep telling myself that until it fully sinks in.


today, we're 3 weeks into this experiment.  and i'm starting to break my own rules.

some days it feels like a chore.  my lists come easier, but i rush through them.  i don't close my eyes and really concentrate on each thing.  and that's a big part of this exercise.

maybe you are having similar experiences.  or maybe you've given up.  or you don't make lists, you just try to be more aware with your gratitude.

whatever it is, i understand.  i expected that sustained, focused gratitude would be tedious. it's not part of our routine.  and it's tough to incorporate anything new.

but that's what im trying to do for myself ... make gratitude a habit. i want to make it my default instinct ... my default response as one of awareness and gratefulness.  that shit is hard! 

i think it takes a lot of re-programming.  because at the moment i'm programmed to feel dissatisfied. or frustrated. or depressed. 

and some days, for no reason, i wake up and feel like this.


"it isn't logical that 'being happy' should be any easier than, say, learning the violin - or require any less effort." - alain de botton

i love this. it makes so much sense to me.  i need to be vigilant about my happiness.  i'm not saying gratitude is the one and only way to this goal.  but i think it's one of the elements.  they say through discipline comes freedom.  i believe it.  the more i practice the things that give me a better to chance to feel good ..... gratitude, diet, exercise, ideas ... the better my life gets. 

maybe im wrong.  but i'll practice and hopefully i can keep seeing positive changes.  and i can feel more present. and more aware.  and i'll stop shrugging my shoulders and giving the finger to people behind their backs.


i wanted to live forever.  then i though about it.  and i decided i want to be young forever. it would be nicer to stay in my 35 year old body for eternity rather than aging and having to deal with all that nonsense.  

but maybe after we check out, something amazing happens.  maybe it's something i shouldn't miss. maybe living forever would be awful.  i don't know.  these questions are too big for my tiny brain.

either way, (i think) i'd like it to be my call. i want it on my terms.

so i try to stay healthy. eat well.  exercise. spend my time with people who i love and who love me. and i practice gratitude.  this seems like the best way to live the longest.

i just read this --- obsessive worrying can take 16 years off of your life.

i have no idea if this is true.  but it's probably not far off.

do you worry excessively? some people i know identify so completely with their worries that they'd be lost without them.

basically, worrying is playing mental defense against all outcomes that can hurt you.  but most of the things we imagine don't happen, so we're suffer needlessly.

once my mother was worrying about something trivial, i can't remember what.  probably something along the lines of "will 250 meatballs be enough for dinner tonite?"  my mother loooves to worry. i asked her why she was stressing and wasting her energy. she said "if i worry about it, it won't happen."

haha! most of us really think this way.  we justify our worries. and we worry ourselves into illness or depression or more worrying.  it just becomes our default mode of existence.  we worry and think and worry and think and worry and then maybe eat a donut. ooph that donut was a good 3 minutes! now let's get back to our worries.

anxiety is exhausting.  and i need all my energy.  energy is another key to happiness (but that's for next month's experiment!).

sooooooo ..... the more grateful i feel, the less i worry.  the less i worry, the better my life gets.  the better my life gets, the longer i want to be alive.  and the longer i want to live, the less i'm supposed to worry!  see how that works!?

if i can live longer, spend more time with you people, enjoy all the great food we have here, explore the world, make some love and play 16 more years of golf ... well that sounds pretty great to me.  

so who's with me??  




i once asked a friend of mine if she meditated.

she said "i was. and i was feeling really good.  so of course i stopped."

i've thought about this a lot.  i'm very guilty of it.  i start practicing something healthy.  and of course my life starts to improve.  i feel really good.   and then i stop because consistent work and practice is not fun.  it's tedious and annoying and i'm one of the laziest people ever to walk the face of the earth.

"no way rob!" you might be thinking. "you're not lazy, you handsome idiot!"

let me assure you.  i am.  i rally against my laziness every day when i wake up. there is nothing easier and more familiar to me than sitting on the couch with many sandwiches and bags of chips nearby.** 

i can sink into days and weeks of this if i'm not careful.  

also, if you've ever dated me, or been a close friend of mine, or even just passed me on the street, you know i really enjoy talking and thinking and talking about food.  mainly sandwiches. i love sandwiches. i have no idea why i'm including this. 


on the days when i win the battle with my lazy self, i sleep much better.  im happier. the last few years i've been winning those battles more and more. but every day is just that ... a battle.  every single day that lazy asshole taps me on the shoulder and says "dude. DUUUUUDE. netflix and chill?"

this feeling is creeping into to my gratitude practice.  it's becoming a chore and the early magic i felt is starting to dissolve.  i'm rushing through the list just to get to done. some days i think that it's not important. im feeling good, so of course i think i can stop.

but i'm still doing it.  still making those lists every day.  im realizing the most important thing is not just making the list, but closing my eyes and thinking about how and why i'm grateful. i know when it's working. something clicks.  it feels as if i'm putting the right piece into a puzzle.  it's like that first bite of a sandwich. any sandwich.  

it's a bit more tedious ... but if i do it, the practice really benefits me. 

i'll fight that battle today.  and i know tomorrow i'll have to fight it again. i'll slay that monster but he'll be waiting for me when i wake up, stronger and pissed off.  because unlike me, he is a morning person.

** this is what happens when your mother, bless her heart, feeds you bologna and doritos every single day for 12 years. this is not an exaggeration. 


it's as if the puzzle pieces are floating above me. and the pieces are all the things that make a good life. 

energy/inspiration/exercise/relationship/success/money/connection/discipline/calmness/presence/etc./etc./etc goes on and on.

i reach up and take a few pieces and they fit together perfectly.  then i'll see another couple pieces float by and ill reach out to grab them.   but as i keep doing this, when i reach up, some of the pieces that were already in the puzzle fly away.  as soon as i notice it's too late. they're out of reach.  and this keeps happening over and over.  

i don't enjoy puzzles.  my family loves them.  i don't have the patience. i prefer crosswords.  who cares.

gratitude seems like one of the most important pieces of life's puzzle.  it's almost as if gratitude is all the puzzle sides ... you know, how you're supposed to start with the frame of the puzzle, the flat edges, and once they're set you can move inward.  getting your gratitude together is like that.

because the point is to live a grateful life.

so how do we do that?  these lists are a good first step for me.  it might be the only step, actually. i'm training my brain to search for gratitude in almost all situations.  especially the ones that feel the worst.  it doesn't work for me unless i make these lists  that's how i practice. and i hope that i will never stop.  but it allows me to be grateful in most of the situations i find myself.

then i can move forward with gratitude as my foundation.  and once something is part of your foundation, it won't fly away into the ether while you're looking the other way.

it's work. it's tedious. it's easy to forget. even if our intentions are good. 

tomorrow is our last day of the experiment.  i assume some of you have stopped completely. some of you are missing days here and there. and maybe a couple of you haven't missed yet. i'm very impressed with those of you who haven't missed.  it's not easy.

so for your last couple lists, a little extra challenge.

try solving some gratitude problems. 

a gratitude problem is something like this.  

i pay a lot in rent.  my rent is high because i live in a great neighborhood that's in high demand. im very lucky to have my place in my neighborhood. it's wonderful here.  there's tons happening and it's easy to get into the city.  it also motivates me to work harder and make more money.  it helps me focus.

you get the picture. 

this is advanced gratitude.  and if you can start doing this ... seeing the universe through this lens ... ooph ... things really start to change.   almost every circumstance becomes an opportunity to practice presence and gratitude. 

and for someone like me, who feels crazy often, i have lots of opportunities.

tomorrow will be my last email (i think). i hope you find them encouraging.   

sometimes i'll send one of these and i think maybe it feels like this: 

once i was doing a puzzle with a friend and her family.  near the end, we realized a piece or two was missing. it was very peculiar.  turned out her grandmother had them in her pockets, i think.  sort of felt like that van damme gif.

either way, i feel lucky to have you guys read these and for being part of this little experiment.

more tomorrow. 


in 8th grade i french kissed sandy sisco in my basement.  i probably shouldn't use her real name. but it's such a good one.  

almost immediately she asked me why i tasted like pickles.

now ... i love pickles. but i hadn't eaten any that day. my mouth was fully prepared to accept someone else's tongue.  breath was fresh.  teeth clean. hormones rocking like michael flatley at riverdance.

that embarrassment sent me into a tailspin of insecurity and shame, especially when she started telling all her friends that my mouth tasted like dill and vinegar.  kids! so fun.

when you're young it's impossible to know who you really are.  at least for me.  i was always trying to be something else. anything else.  and i carried a bunch of that into adulthood.  it's strange how many of our childhood burdens we carry with us.

it's easy for me to remember the struggles of growing up.  it's easy to feel those things again.  

i'm still jealous of those comfortable in their own skin.  

someone close to me once said the best compliment you can give your parents is "i like who i am."  i've thought a lot about that.

i didn't feel that way for most of my life. i was hard on myself. i'm still hard on myself. 

sometimes i think i'm not enough.

not successful enough.

not smart enough.

strong enough. funny enough. determined enough. good looking enough.

then i would look in the mirror and think, "who i am kidding?  im the handsomest."

(all together now)

this exercise is helping me. i'll continue to do it. i've been able to accept more ... appreciate more. when you live with gratitude, you are training yourself to recognize the beauty in the universe. we're surrounded by it. it's impossible to avoid.

gratitude is like taking the red pill in the matrix ... once you're aware of HOW MUCH there is to feel grateful for, you can't unlearn that.  you know it's everywhere.

and once you become aware of the beauty outside of you, it's easier to recognize it within you. we are all part of it.  it's in every single one of us.  

we can't control what happens around us.  only within us.

and if we can practice gratitude .... strengthen that muscle ...  we're controlling what happens within us. we're becoming the light. we're learning to love ourselves.

we're winning that war against all the outside forces that aim to hurt or shame or torment us ....  all the rejection, the financial trouble, the strained relationships, work issues, the politics, the insecurity, the worries ...  all the girls telling you that you smell like a delicatessen.

so sandy sisco  ...  im grateful you taught that horny little weirdo how to have compassion ... im happy about that ... and with who i am.  please let my parents know.


"do it or do not do it, you will regret both"  ::  soren kierkegaard

isn't this beautiful?  i haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

i feel like this at most restaurants.  

soren was danish and lived in the 1800s and this dark humor hits the bullseye for me.

i think a lot of us suffer over decisions.  we're programmed to worry.  isn't that crazy?

should i do this or that?  what happens if i don't do this?  maybe i should leave my job?   should we live here or there? AM I DOING THE RIGHT THING!?  DID I MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE?? i ordered the tofu but that guy got the burger and it looks amazing and now i want to go eat in the bathroom.

but if i unpack this quote, it means STOP WORRYING.  we try so hard to control situations ... to plan and prepare ... but ultimately the outcome is not in our control.  we have to be less attached to results, and more in love with the process.  more in love with the present moment and less concerned about a future we keep inventing in our heads.  

i've said it before ...we cannot control what happens around us, only within us.  so if we live from a place of confidence and acceptance.... without anxiety and stress and grief ... we worry less and live happier.

when we worry less, we suffer less.  and when we suffer less we have more energy for all the wonderful things in our lives. 

i think we can amend this sentiment .... do or do not, things will be ok no matter what.  that's the key to contentment.  use each situation as an opportunity to learn and the next time you have to make a decision, odds are you will make a better one.

how do we stop worrying? it's a big question.  the simple answer is that we train ourselves to be present.  we exercise and eat right and be creative every day.  we spend our time with people who make us feel good.

and i focus on gratitude and do my best to live a grateful life. i train myself to do this.  that's what these lists are. it's about re-programming the brain to respond differently. and it's totally possible.

there's too much research out there proving that gratitude is effective. it's impossible to ignore it.  last week there was yet another article on gratitude in the times.  

this shit works. 

i've continued to make my lists.  sometimes i don't get to 10, and that's ok.  there are many ways to practice.

expressing gratitude ... and cultivating it ... feels like church to me.  it's practical spirituality.  it's giving back to the universe. the universe pays attention and then wants to give you more.  it's the opposite of a vicious cycle.  it's a ... benevolent cycle.  a cycle that re-programs us to see and feel and appreciate the world differently.

"prayer does not change God, but changes him who prays" :: soren kierkegaard

this danish comedian knew of what he spoke.

we are so lucky it's crazy.

- Rob