I’ve been around the 12-step block for a while, and one thing I’ve heard more times than I can count is how an “attitude of gratitude” makes all the difference. If I feel grateful, then I’m focusing on everything that’s good, instead of what’s lacking, in my life. An attitude of gratitude ensures that I stay away from self-pity, resentment and fault-finding.

The problem with that is that I’m a human being, with a default setting of “There’s something wrong with this picture and I need to fix it.” Lack of gratitude has taken a variety of forms in my life, from addiction to various geographical cures (do you know anyone else who lived in three cities in one year?) to an underlying feeling of discontentment that followed me around the globe and well into my sober years.

But an interesting thing happened recently. After a complaining session with a dear friend of mine, she invited me join her “gratitude group,” an e-mail list she shares with a few close women friends. Each day, all of the women write ten to fifteen things they’re grateful for and send them to each other. My friend told me it had changed her life.

It was a story I’d heard before, and not just from the recovering addicts in my meetings. From the time I was a child, I had been taught to say Modeh Ani, a prayer thanking G‑d for blessing me with a new day of life, the moment I woke up in the morning. The word modeh means “to acknowledge,” and is also connected to the word todah, which means “thanks.” In this prayer, I say modeh to acknowledge G‑d’s kindness, and then ani, which means “me,” because I must be thankful to my Creator for the many blessings He gives me before I even think of myself. This was, ideally, how to get my day off on the right foot.

Unfortunately, after twenty-nine years, that prayer alone hadn’t quite done the trick. I was still discontented, still negative, and the first to find fault with everything. Maybe this e-mail list could work for me, as it had done for my friend. Though I was skeptical (would you expect anything else from a confirmed pessimist?), I agreed to start writing a list each day.

At first, finding things that I was grateful for was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. My bad attitude, cultivated over years, was as rigid as a crowbar, and it took serious mental muscle to bend it. I started with the little things: My husband and kids. My car. A fridge full of food. Being employed. The basic stuff. After a while, though, it got easier. I could be grateful for someone who annoyed me because, hey, at least I wasn’t them. I could be grateful for my messy house, because that meant my kids were healthy and happy and having fun. I could even be grateful for the Mt. Everest of laundry in my bedroom, because that meant we had clothes to wear.

Then, something interesting happened. At first I was only sending my list to my friend, but then I started replying to all of the women on her list, and added a few of my own friends as well. I started receiving their lists each day and seeing how they found the good and exciting in the everyday minutiae, how they muddled through the tough stuff and still found something to smile about: A woman in her last few, very uncomfortable weeks of pregnancy. Two women powering through their end-of-semester, crunch-time workload. Two moms chasing two kids and trying to stay (relatively) sane. A newlywed adjusting to married life. I found they were exactly like me, each with our own challenges; and yet with their daily support, the silver lining was almost always crystal clear.

Before long, I realized something miraculous had happened. My brain had switched: any time anything came up, I automatically tried to find something about it to be grateful for. I even started looking for things throughout the day that I could put on my list and share with my inspiring friends. That old, nagging, discontented feeling had faded and was replaced with a continuous buzz of contentment and—could it be?—peace.

I have no doubt that it was the direct result of my gratitude list, and the women I share it with every day. If there is such a thing as magic, this is it.

I think that’s definitely something to be grateful for.