Today’s assignment is simple and might not only change your brain but your life as well:

  1. Get yourself a small blank notebook or diary: large enough to write in, small enough to fit on your nightstand. Leave a pen or pencil next to the notebook.

  2. Once a day, either before you go to sleep or immediately when you wake up, write down three or more things for which you’re grateful, such as sunshine, a raise at work, a child’s smile, love, this day, a roof over your head, apples, the fragrance of an infant’s head.

  3. Keep this practice of writing in your gratitude journal on a regular basis.

Why are we asking you to keep a gratitude diary? Simple. Studies have shown that people who make time to give thanks have higher levels of blood flow and activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls many important functions in the human body, one of which is regulating anxiety and depression, both of which can lead to cognitive decline.

Another similar idea, but with the added boost of social interaction, is to create a joint gratitude notebook. Keep it in your purse or backpack. When you meet a friend for a meal or a drink, ask them to write down three or more things for which they feel grateful. Reading through these lists will expand your own ideas of gratitude, particularly if they are unusual or quirky: trash removal, not having a headache, swim goggles, moss. Taking a silent, mental inventory of your good fortune works well, too, and is an excellent way of surviving difficult or annoying situations: a packed subway, a long wait in a line, a moment of insomnia. (Keeping a gratitude journal actually helps alleviate insomnia as well.)