You’d think the CEO of a company called Happier would be a naturally bubbly person. But Nataly Kogan puts herself squarely in the category of regular people who are happy sometimes – and not so happy other times.
“I have a lot of crappy days,” says Kogan. “A lot of my moments on Happier, I’ll write things like ‘Wow, this is a really awful day but I came home and my daughter gave me a hug, but I read this amazing email from a user, but I’m glad it’s over!”
Kogan does have one important difference from most of us: she devoted herself to researching the science of happiness, after realizing that a high-powered job, fancy car, and wonderful family still left her unfulfilled. She learned that gratitude is one of the most significant keys to happiness, and she and her team created the Happier app to help people share their positive moments and practice gratitude daily.
Of course, being a startup entrepreneur is one of those jobs that can be taxing on your happiness, if you aren’t careful.
“Our lives are crazy,” says Kogan. “We work around the clock, it’s really, really, really hard, we stare failure in the face all the time, we don’t sleep enough, we don’t eat correctly.”
So while we could all benefit from being more grateful, entrepreneurs are often in dire need of its stress-reducing, sleep-improving effects. According to research, gratitude can create a cycle of positivity that might just mean the difference between feeling defeated or seeing opportunities, between burnout and hope.
What Kogan learned through her research and experience at Happier are lessons about gratitude that entrepreneurs can start applying right now. The first is: change your mindset. Kogan’s exploration began when her belief that success would bring happiness was proven wrong. In the same way, entrepreneurs often postpone happiness until they “make it.” The problem isn’t just that success doesn’t always bring happiness, but that many entrepreneurs don’t succeed, or success has its own challenges and stressors. Learning gratitude smooths out the sharp edges of life so we can live more contentedly.
The trick is: you have to practice gratitude every day. Gratitude can rewire your brain to be more positive, but only if you make it a habit. So Kogan recommends attaching a gratitude exercise to some routine you do daily. She herself has three gratitude rituals throughout the day: before her husband and daughter wake up, she goes for a several-mile walk and then stops at her door to recall something good from the day before. During the morning rush, she pauses to write a note for her daughter’s lunchbox – something she appreciates about her daughter, is proud of, or is looking forward to. She’s done that since her daughter was in kindergarten. “That 30 seconds when I pause to write her that note . . . is probably my favorite 30 seconds of my day,” says Kogan. And after work, before turning on the car to drive home, she thinks of something positive that happened during the day – often, an email from a user or an awesome team member.
Many of these moments are recorded on Happier – Kogan has shared over 1,400 moments since the app launched in February. Studies indicate that writing down things you’re grateful for packs a happier punch than simply thinking about them.
If you want to start a gratitude habit, too, you can join Happier’s Everyday Grateful course: a 21-day program that teaches you gratitude through daily tips, videos and articles, and guidance from Kogan. (You’ll also get an orange-heavy kit of gratitude journals, stickers, wristbands, a magnet, and “You’re Awesome” cards to give to your friends and family.)
You might think gratitude is fluff – like Kogan did originally. But think of it this way: if you’ve launched a company, you probably haven’t done it alone. You might have a family who supports you despite the late nights, a team who believes in your vision, or mentors who give advice. And you probably still interact with these people daily. If you can’t yet be thankful for a sunny day or a tasty lunch, start by being thankful for the people around you. And let the positivity cycle begin.