In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Israeli superstar Gal Gadot radiates positivity. Interviewer Nancy Jo Sales describes how Gadot has the “happiest smile I think I’ve seen on anyone since the start of the pandemic. I wonder about that smile, and how Gadot manages to stay so happy. I wonder if it’s because she seems so aware of how lucky she is.”

Throughout the interview, Gadot describes herself as lucky. She’s lucky for her family, lucky for health, lucky she has the opportunity to play Wonder Woman on screen.

She is also very grateful to God for her good fortune. “In the Jewish culture there’s a prayer that you’re supposed to say every time you wake up in the morning to thank God for, you know, keeping you alive,” Gadot explains, referring to the Jewish prayer, Modeh Ani. “You say ‘modeh ani’, which means ‘I give thanks’... So every morning I wake up and step out of bed and I say ‘Thank you for everything, thank you, thank, you, thank you...Nothing is to be taken for granted.”

The Modeh Ani prayer is simple and beautiful. Traditionally said at the moment one first opens one’s eyes in the morning, it thanks God for the miracle of waking up for yet another day of life:

I gratefully thank you, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion – great is Your faithfulness!

Waking up with words of thanksgiving on our lips has a profound effect on the rest of our day.

Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami conducted groundbreaking research into the way that expressing gratitude contributes to our feelings of happiness and well-being. In one oft-repeated experiment, they asked a group of people to spend some time each week writing down items they were grateful for. A second group was asked to write each week about things that annoyed them; a third group wrote about events of the past week (without emphasizing either the positive or the negative).

After ten weeks of journaling, the results were profound. People who’d written about what they felt grateful for were markedly more cheerful and reported feeling much more optimistic and happier about their lives. (Those who’d spent time writing about things that aggravated them felt the worst.) Writing down what was good in their lives also improved the health of those who wrote about what they were thankful for: they reported exercising more and needing fewer visits to the doctor than the group which journalled about negative emotions.

When Professors Emmons and McCullough wrote up their research, they prefaced their otherwise technical scientific paper with an eloquent quote from Charles Dickens: “Reflect on your present blessings, on which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” We each have both good and bad in our lives: the choice on what to focus on affects the rest of our lives and our well-being.

Two thousand years ago the Jewish sage Ben Zoma asked who is truly rich? “One who is happy with his portion,” was Ben Zoma’s answer (Pirkei Avot 4:1). People who appreciate what they have might not be rich by objective standards, but they certainly feel rich. Reminding ourselves of all the many blessings we have to be thankful for is the surest way to feel lucky and fulfilled.

That’s why the Jewish Modeh Ani prayer is so powerful: it forces us to put into words some of life’s great gifts that we’d normally take for granted, the first act a Jew does every day. Thank you God for waking me up. Thank You for giving me a whole new day. Thank You for the miracle of being alive. And thank You for believing in me. No matter what troubles we have in our lives, we can choose to focus on those aspects that are good.

Starting our day with a hearty Modeh ani – “I thank you” – can change the rest of the day that follows, reminding us to appreciate all the many blessings and good fortune that we each have in our lives, and to feel God’s constant encouragement as we conquer the day.

No wonder Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman!

Watch this video to get a deeper understanding of the Modeh Ani prayer.