The Science of Gratitude
An Interview with UJ Ramdas,
Co-Creator of The Five Minute Journal
We’ve all received the age-old advice at one stage or another. Start and begin your day with positive thoughts - that’s the way to make all the stuff that happens in between better. You would struggle to find anyone that would disagree - a happier life starts with being grateful for all the awesome stuff that you have been blessed with.
Now, imagine even gratitude came wrapped in a beautiful package that made it easy to organise your thoughts? A journal where you simply fill in the blanks and your focus naturally shifts to the positive? That’s the concept of The Five Minute Journal. A friend recently sent me one in the post - it’s positivity meets science and (in my experience) it couldn’t be a better way for busy people to get a big return on a small five minute investment.
The creators of the Journal, UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn want to help people tap their potential and lead more purposeful lives. We spoke to UJ, to give us the inside word on “the journal for people who don’t write journals.”
You personally have a very unusual and interesting background in behavioural science, marketing and hypnosis. Can you tell us a little bit about how you landed on the subject of gratitude as a linchpin for your work?
Well, what’ s interesting is that I was following some version of the Five Minute Journal for about eight years before we actually created it. The idea came together because I was on a walk with Alex who was a good friend at the time and now business partner. We were having a conversation about morning routines, night routines, marketing, business, women, etc. He, at the time, was starting his day with gratitude and I was ending my day with clear, focused reflection and we decided to combine these two together and create a powerful journal. The research on gratitude is pretty astounding and it’s something that I knew would be a game-changer and I’m happy other people do as well. Everything starts with gratitude when it comes to achievement. It also ends with gratitude because unless you appreciate what you have and appreciate what you’ve accomplished and truly relish the results of your work, there’s no point in working. Gratitude is a pretty all-around emotion – it helps you focus on what’s good, become more resilient in the face of obstacles and notice things you wouldn’t normally notice because your mind is already consistently primed to look at what’s working and how to improve on that. So it’s very difficult to go wrong when it comes to gratitude, you can’t overdo it.
Why do you think the journal and the app has been so successful – what do you think it is about gratitude that resonates with people?
I ask everyone that buys from us this question. The single best answer I’ve received so far is that it’s simple. Unlike other tools that talk about gratitude, it doesn’t delve into the science too much, even though, in reality, there is actually a lot of science behind it. It’s like a toothbrush for your mind, something you can get into doing at the beginning and the end of your day without thinking about it too much that can slowly change your mindset.
So, thinking about the concept of gratitude in a work sense and when it comes to our professional life - what do you think is the best way to cultivate gratitude when it comes to your work?
The first principle with gratitude is to start with the beginning. So ideally it’s best to insert gratitude into your day as early as possible, as soon as you wake up is ideal or say, as your getting ready to get to work, etc. The thing is that the way to feel positive about anything isn’t to necessarily have something to feel positive about. The gratitude can always come first. This is a proven concept. Once you already have a naturally positive orientation towards something, you can start to create more positive things just out of that. For example, take your relationship with your boss as an example, which is important for a lot of people. Next to your relationship with your family and your spouse, that’s probably one of the most important relationships in your life. So let’s say as you are walking to work you choose to use that time to focus on all the positive things that already exist in that relationship. I call this a gratitude walk. So on this walk this is a ‘no-negative thoughts” zone. If negative thoughts come in your head you simply tell your mind to save them for later. So right now you are just focusing on all the amazing things that exist in this relationship with your boss. You might not even have too much to start with at all. Say the fact that you aren’t fired is a great place to start, the fact that you are both in good health, the fact that you are in a place where you have the same goals in mind and want great things to happen in the company – there is always something to be grateful for. If you made it a point every day as you moved from your home to work to consistently during that time to focus on the positives in that relationship – within one week you will notice some changes. Changes in the way you speak with the person or how you send emails or relate with the person. This is because what’s actually happening on a neurological level is that you are retraining yourself to believe something different, something better about that relationship. People are very sensitive to emotional cues. So now, when you communicate with your boss, subconsciously that positivity transfers between you and that relationship improves. It improves because you have naturally trained yourself to feel better and better about it.
I know you are a big fan of Robert Greene who wrote The 48 Laws of Power and have said that he has been quite influential in your life. Who would you say have been other influences or acted as mentors for you in your work and your life?
Tim Ferriss has been quite the inspiration in my life and I’m a big fan of his thinking. I’ve also been fascinated by the writing of Malcolm Gladwell, a great writer and storyteller, I particularly enjoyed his book Blink. I enjoy the writing of Peter Thiel, author of Zero to One and founder of Pay Pal.
I’ve been very fortunate to have great teachers in University and friends that have acted as great mentors to me. I think it’s so valuable to actively seek out mentors and also people that you can mentor as well. I have an old friend from my early childhood that just a few days ago I reached out to because I know he’s in a little bit of a transitional position in his life and I understand that. So I’ve simply got in contact with him to let him know that I’m here to support him. It won’t take much effort for me but to him it’s going to make such a difference and I think it’s important to take those steps when you’re in a position to do something like that.
Are there any other books or resources you would recommend our Naked readers seek out or connect with to better understand the concept of gratitude and the influence gratitude can have on their lives?
Yes definitely! Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert and Thanks by Robert Emmons are excellent books on the subject of gratitude and a great way to better understand some of the thinking behind the Five Minute Journal.
The Five-Minute Journal is available from fiveminutejournal.com