Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud: The simple gratitude game my wife and I play before bed

Guess what?

If you can be happy with simple things then it will be simple to be happy.

Back in 2003, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked groups of students to write down five gratitudes, five hassles or five events that happened over the past week for 10 straight weeks. What happened? The students who wrote five gratitudes were happier and physically healthier than the other two test groups.

I’ve given speeches sharing this research for a while but I was always left with a nagging question. What if you simply don’t have the willpower to write down five gratitudes? I hope you do. I hope I do! But what if you don’t? I mean, when was honestly the last time you did that?

Well, today I want to share a little game my wife Leslie and I play at the end of the night just before we turn off the lights that completely solves this problem.

It’s called Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud.


What was a highlight from the day? Leslie shares something she’s grateful for. A highlight. First thing that pops to mind! “When our son ran up to see me after preschool,” “the half hour of silence I got when both kids were napping,” “I found construction paper in the basement for a craft before dinner.” Can you tell she’s a busy mom? And then after she says a rose, I say one back to her from my day. “My new book is starting to get Goodreads reviews,” “I bumped into Marcel at the coffee shop,” or “I listened to a great episode of The Knowledge Project.” “Getting to write for smart and attractive readers through my blog and email list.” You get the idea.


Then what? We do it a second time. Another rose from her, another rose from me. For those doing the math at home that’s four gratitudes generally in less than a minute here. Remember: the research shows you only need five a week. What’s next?


What didn’t go well today? Nobody is endlessly positive. It’s important to be heard. It’s important to be listened to. “Our son was sad and crying at dropoff,” “I had a stressful phone call with a relative,” “I didn’t get as much done as I wanted.” This is a chance to show empathy and compassion while letting your partner get something off their chest. Very important!

And then we close with a ...


A bud is something you’re looking forward to … tomorrow, next week, or 20 years down the road. “Brunch with my sister on Saturday,” “when that new Chipotle finally opens” or “the moment next summer when we’re able to canoe into perfectly silent water during sunrise.” The last thought is a little dream of something to come.

What does Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud do in practice?

Well, as long as the Thorn doesn’t become a 45-minute argument about who didn’t do the dishes, it’s a perfect two-minute exercise to grab four gratitudes right before bed. Also works great at the dinner table or during the commute! Remember: you only need five a week. So playing this game even two or three times in your week helps you focus your mind.

As Charles Dickens said: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

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