What Makes A Great Day

One of my favorite activities I do with team members whenever I get a chance is an activity I learned from a conversation with a consultant from April Strategy.  The concept is simple: ask the people in the room to think about the last time they had a really good day. You wake up just like every other day, but for some reason something triggers the day to go from normal to great, and you leave work thinking, that was a really great day.

I give them a couple of minutes of silence to reflect, to remember their last “great” day, and then to think back to the specific thing that changed it for them. Then we share.

As we go around the room, common themes emerge: feeling appreciated, being able to competently perform a skill, knowing that they positively impacted someone. But it’s the specific stories that  tug at my heart and leave me with an overwhelming sense of respect and gratitude for the humanness these caregivers extend to their patients, like the story I heard this week of an ER nurse braiding a  “difficult” patient’s hair so that she would look presentable for her court appearance that afternoon. Or the nurse who was able to connect with an anxious mom who is caring for her son with mental disabilities, so much so the mom hugged the nurse, with tears of appreciation, before she left.

Great days happen when we connect. When we take the time to make a difference. What I love about this activity is that it reminds all of us how much is in our control over whether or not we have a great day. I can choose to engage. I can choose to listen. I can choose to appreciate someone. I can choose to extend kindness and compassion to a situation. 

The wisdom is age old, but the concept is still fresh: giving is better than receiving. When we give of ourselves by connecting to others, especially those that are suffering, not only do we help them, we help ourselves.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself to the service of others.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

My last great day happened two days ago.  I was doing the Great Day Activity with a group of nurses and one of them courageously and honestly opened up about how after 20 years in nursing, lately it’s been especially, almost unbearably, hard. My heart broke for her. 

I came to work the next day and wondered what I could do for her…I don’t know her well and had no idea if she liked flowers or what I could do, plus was it weird that I barely know her and I’m buying her flowers?

In the afternoon we went to a going a way party for a colleague and there was cake with bright flowers made with gobs of frosting. I quickly emailed the leader of the  nurse from the day before, “Does she like cake?”

I didn’t get a response. So I cut the biggest piece of cake I could fit on the little plastic plate and made my way to her unit. She saw me coming, waving her hands, calling out, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine”.

When I got to her I told her I was thinking about her and wanted to bring her cake. I held it out to her. She smiled. As she reached for it, her eyes teared up.

When I got back to my desk, her leader had responded to my email–“She’s not super into sweets. She does paleo. She likes nuts, dark chocolate, and bacon.” I had to laugh. It’s a good thing I didn’t get the email before, because I never would have given her that cake, but the cake really didn’t matter at all. It was that she knew I cared.

I left that day, thinking, That was a really great day. And I know exactly why: it was because I was able to make a difference for her.  So I’m looking for more and more ways where I can metaphorically bring someone a piece of cake–where I can connect and make a difference for someone. Not only does it change their day, it also changes mine.

What about you? When was the last great day you had? What triggered the change for you? Tell me about it in the comments below!



  1. When I walked with someone because they looked lost. When I started to chat with him he told me his daughter was in the hospital because she had tried to commit suicide. My heart was broken and I was so caught off guard. It reminded me that all of us have hard things going on and we just don’t really know unless we take the time to listen. To be present. To take a detour from where we were headed and go where we need to be instead. I gave this man my card and said to call me if he needed anything. We hugged and I wished him the very best with his daughter. I asked him her name so I could pray for her. I am so lucky to work in healthcare and am reminded every day we all make a huge difference in people’s lives. Both those colleagues we work with as well as our patients and their families. We help alleviate stress. Anxiety and suffering by listening. By being present and by being caring and compassionate. Thank you danae for your great work ! I really enjoy your blog and all the people who share their stories.


    1. Thank you for sharing this story Lorna! Like you said, being willing to take a detour and go where we are needed versus staying where we expected to be…the more we keep our eyes open for these opportunities the more I’m certain they will present themselves and we will be aware enough to engage.


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