“Social media is a waste of time.” “It’s the highlight reel, not real life.” “I call it Fake-Book.” “People are so mean with their comments.” “All it does is make people feel bad about themselves.”

These are just some of the many complaints I’ve heard in my 10+ years of blogging and using social media. I get it, and I have definitely had my own negative thoughts and interactions online over the years. I’ve been hit with FOMO looking at pictures of a party I wasn’t invited to. I’ve received nasty feedback about blog posts I’ve written. But my overall experiences online have been positive — even life-changing.

Eight years ago, I met a kindred spirit online. Although Angie lives in South Carolina and I live in Maryland, we found each other through our blogs and discovered that we were living parallel lives. We had both left unfulfilling corporate jobs to follow our hearts, and now we were both trying to juggle marriage, motherhood, and our writing careers, while blogging our way through the experience.

Our blog comments turned into email exchanges, which turned into phone calls, which turned into video chats, which turned into visits to each other’s cities. Some common themes in our ongoing conversations were: what does it mean to live with intention and authenticity? How do we balance the practical demands of the real world with our desire to do meaningful work? How do we raise children who are happy, kind, and grateful? How do WE live lives that make us feel happy, kind, and grateful?

Angie and I were both mostly content, but we struggled at times with boredom, burnout, and being overwhelmed. We both wanted to enjoy our lives more, just as they were at that moment, however messy or imperfect.

Both of us are fans of social media, especially Instagram. Taking pictures and browsing through others’ gorgeous images felt fun and inspiring to us. We wondered if there was something we could do for people like us who wanted to use social media in a positive way.

During her first visit to my home in Baltimore, in the midst of a major snowstorm, Angie proposed collaborating on a project together. What if we launched a joint Instagram account and shared moments of joy, gratitude, or awareness that we experienced in our day-to-day lives?

Holed up in my basement guestroom while the snow fell outside, we hammered out the details. We would start when the kids went back to school in the fall. We would take turns posting photos. The only ground rules were that the photos had to be real, visually appealing, and somehow fit the hashtag #moregoodlessgrind. Our tagline for the project was “Looking for the good amidst the daily grind.”

I admit that at first I thought it would be easy. For one thing, we both have young children. Kids are a goldmine of goodness, from sticky handpicked bouquets to colorful crayon drawings of rainbows and kittens. And, for sure, our Instagram feed is filled with happy images of kids enjoying popsicles and pools, puppies and mud puddles. Since we started in August 2015, we have also taken lots of photos of beaches, ballgames, spring flowers, and holiday decorations.

But the project got more challenging. First, winter came again. Long, dark days indoors and I do not get along. Life seemed like an endless string of laundry, deadlines, homework, and chores. Each dull day like the last, I struggled to find anything new or interesting. But the funny thing is, I could always find something good. Every single day. Even if it was just a quiet moment to myself, a funny note one of my kids wrote, or a piece of carrot cake.

We were tested even more, though. My grandfather passed away and Angie’s father died after a battle with cancer. My husband and Angie’s mom were both unexpectedly hospitalized for weeks. Kids got sick. My husband lost his job. But guess what? The project had trained us to look for the good no matter what. Months of seeking, capturing, and sharing uplifting everyday moments had expanded our awareness and strengthened our gratitude muscles. Not a day went by that I couldn’t find or appreciate at least one good thing, even on the hardest days.

Would I have noticed the simple coziness of my son reading on the couch before? Would I have appreciated the appeal of freshly washed sheets? Would I have been able to find anything good about shelling out thousands of dollars for a new hot water heater? The answer is maybe, but probably not. Or if I had, those moments would have slipped right by and been forgotten, had I not snapped photos and shared them on Instagram.

I can’t say for certain that the project inspired me to plan a spontaneous trip to Charleston over Thanksgiving, or heal a family rift, or start and maintain a daily meditation practice. But somehow, committing to focusing on the good for a year made it easier to follow through on other things I felt would make my life more peaceful and joyful.

Research has shown that fully savoring something in the moment, noticing the details, and sharing it with others has a measurable positive impact on happiness. Psychologists have found that recalling happy memories can combat depression. Studies also show that consciously shifting our focus away from negative things and onto things we’re grateful for can increase our happiness. But it takes awareness and practice.

“We can find ourselves caught in this cycle of keeping track of the wrong things,” author Seth Godin has said. We might keep track of how many times we’re rejected, or how many times something didn’t work, or what we don’t have. “Of course we can keep track of those things. But why? Are they making us better? Wouldn’t it make more sense to keep track of the other stuff?” asks Godin.

Angie and I think it does make more sense. So that’s what we set out to do for one full year with our Instagram project. And if you ask me, it’s working.

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Together with fellow writer Angie Mizzell, Abigail created the More Good Less Grind project on Instagram to encourage gratitude by capturing moments of good amidst the daily grind. It was promoted by Real Simple’s #WomenIRL and the Life is Good campaign, #GROWthegood. While the one-year project has concluded, it lives on through the hashtag, #moregoodlessgrind.

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