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Power of Gratitude to Boost Happiness and Exam Performance

Dave Meshkov invited participants to experience the uplifting effects of gratitude in real time, in a dynamic, interactive masterclass on happiness that capped Knopman Marks’ popular, 8-week Essentials to Thrive series.

Students who know Meshkov as a Knopman Marks faculty member discovered that he’s also a trained yoga instructor and an ardent proponent of the profound and long-lasting neural effects of expressing gratitude. In his masterclass, Happiness Essentials – Dive into the practices and techniques proven to increase your bliss, Meshkov explores the science of gratitude and its ability to help us sleep better, decrease stress, and by extension, enhance our ability to learn and perform on exams.

“Gratitude is noticing the goodness in the world, but it doesn’t mean being blind to the tough stuff we all face from time to time,” Meshkov says. “Science has proven that showing gratitude is one of the most powerful happiness-boosting activities there is.”

3 Big Ideas to Increase Your Bliss

  1. Trigger good feelings anytime. At any moment in your day, you can express gratitude to someone and feel better as a result, especially in tough times, Meshkov says. You can tell another person why you appreciate them or that you feel grateful for something they’ve done. Or you can jot down something you’re grateful for in a gratitude list. Practicing gratitude kicks off a healthful, self-perpetuating cycle in your brain – the more we activate gratitude circuits, the more we strengthen our ability to recognize what’s good. “We’ve learned that it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us happiness,” Meshkov says. 
  2. Beware the self-critical gremlins. It’s difficult for most of us to accept compliments graciously. “Our first reaction is usually to shrug off a compliment or downplay it,” Meshkov says. He suggests learning to accept gratitude by taking a breath, believing the person complimenting you, saying thank you, and enjoying it. Focusing on what’s good, rather than what’s wrong, can help prevent a negative mindset from taking hold. “What are the critical comments your gremlins tell you?” Meshkov asks, encouraging a self-appreciation focus instead. This could include listing your positive qualities, skills or abilities, important people you’ve met, milestones you’ve reached (like passing an exam), or lessons you’ve learned.
  3. Expand your gratitude list. Get granular. Go beyond the larger categories of family, health, and employment. When Meshkov polled the audience, asking for a more detailed account of what they were grateful for, the list included wisdom, growth despite challenges, the ability to figure things out, playing music—and not least, red lipstick. “You can set that positive feedback loop in motion by appreciating things large and small,” says Meshkov, who appreciates the moment he experiences each night on seeing his dog Georgia, who “lies on my bed, in my spot, on my pillow, sleeping peacefully.”

Q&A with Dave Meshkov

What sparked your research into the power of gratitude?
I was a participant in a conference about a year ago that explored gratitude. The conference elicited the very neurochemical and emotional feelings it discussed by having us acknowledge and express gratitude. It was very powerful. I was floored. After that, I began reading more about it and trying to apply more of the techniques in the classes I teach and in my life.

How has a practice of gratitude changed your daily life in a small or big way?
The most powerful change has come from a morbid reflection that I use all the time when facing challenging circumstances. The “It could be worse” frame works for me. I remind myself that whatever challenge I now face, it could be so much worse if I were to have died. I’ll take the challenging experience 100% of the time. I am happier to be here with the challenge. It’s an effective tool for instant perspective and gratitude for what I have. It’s a way to reboot my mind if I’m not feeling great.

Can you share an entry from your gratitude journal, which you mentioned was a gift from Knopman Marks CEO Liza Streiff?
I recently shifted to being grateful for questions I was asked and being able to help. I assume people are coming from a good place. It’s a reminder that nobody is out to make me upset. Now if I get a note from someone asking me to explain an exam question in an instance where they can clearly do the work themselves, I am able to shift to gratitude. I remember they are struggling through the material and I can help them. With a gratitude journal, the path gets smoother and easier to walk over time.

What would you recommend for someone who wants to start a gratitude practice?
I would encourage them to download the handout from my session. A default in our culture is to zoom in on what’s bad. In the past, our brains had an evolutionary need to watch for risk and what could harm us. We are still looking for negativity when there are no physical risks. But you can turn that around by practicing gratitude. Try following the recommendations in the handout for a week, putting pen to paper. You will quickly develop the ability to go through your day recognizing small things you’re grateful for. You will be able to see improvements. A gratitude practice will help you feel better, too. It takes a little effort, but it’s really worth it.

Tune In to Essentials to Thrive Recordings

Happiness Essentials marks the final, live-streaming Essentials to Thrive masterclass session in our 8-week series. If you missed Meshkov’s masterclass, a recording is available in the Training Center at You can also access the recordings and materials from previous sessions:

Suzanne Riss is an author and Director of Communications at Knopman Marks Financial Training. Previously the award-winning Editor-in-Chief of Working Mother magazine, she is a fierce advocate for issues facing working moms and an authority on work/life trends. Her expertise has been tapped in interviews by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN. Suzanne's third book, Work Disrupted, published by Wiley, was released in January 2021.