In my senior year of high school, my homeroom tutor asked us to come up with a list of three things we were grateful for. I instantly groaned because it felt like another task to do. Why couldn’t we spend the next 20 minutes, before our classes, to sit and do nothing? We were already sleep-deprived, and could probably use a couple more minutes of solitude. However, my stubbornness was well met by my tutor’s fatherly attempt to convince us that this was worth it.
As the naive and bratty 17-year old that I was, I couldn’t completely figure out what there was to be grateful for. Nothing new had happened. College admissions weren’t out. There was nothing exciting that was going to happen. It was just a continual drag of assignments until graduation. Mindlessly, I wrote, “Friends. Family. Food” and handed it in. I took a quick peek at what other people were grateful for, and let out an impudent laugh. Seriously, thankful for coffee?
As a now 20-year-old, I say thank you to my tutor for making us write these lists. I cringe at how little thought I had put into this meaningful activity, and how impertinent I was towards other people’s gratitude lists. Almost two and a half years later, maintaining a gratitude journal has become one of my favorite mindful exercises. Since I was first introduced to it, I’ve been gratitude journaling intermittently. Gratitude journaling is an incredibly simple activity to do. On a bad day, a list of even three things can make heaps of a difference to your mood.
As mentioned in my previous article, being nestled in a lockdown led me to experience bouts of anxiety. Like others, I adopted a flustered mindset, where I wanted to revive my social routine and have life return to normal. However, I was also tired of feeling frustrated with situations outside of my control. So, two weeks ago, I decided to make gratitude journaling a more active part of my life. I decided to end each day with three things that I was grateful for.
For a mere moment, it didn’t seem easy to find three things a day to be grateful for, especially during COVID. Most of us are locked up in our homes and aren’t allowed to go out unless it’s for an essential service. Our social routines have been disturbed, and we’re scrambling to find ‘more’ to do – and that’s when it hit me. In the fast-paced world we live in today, we’re continually striving for more. We’re trained to do ‘more.’ We have an odd obsession with always wanting ‘more.’ You accomplish one goal, and now it’s time to crack down another. Being ambitious is great, don’t get me wrong, but our rat race fantasy is causing us to lead checklist boxed lives.
So, when we think of the first three things to be grateful for, our mind automatically indulges in the materialistic possessions we own. Almost as if they’re the only ‘gratitude worthy’ around us due to their attached monetary value and short lives. Whereas, the ‘simple things’ of life such as our friends and family are assumed to be with us till the end of time, so we tend to appreciate them less. Isn’t it sad that people became more aware of the importance of their interpersonal relationships or how much we truly craved the embrace of our loved ones, only during the time of a pandemic?
Over the last two weeks, my focus centered around creating my gratitude journal. This experience had amazing effects on my overall mental health. It instantly boosted my self-morale and made me feel happier. I sought comfort in being reminded of the ‘little’ moments in life that deserved to be celebrated, such as watching a beautiful sunset or having dinner with my family every night – a few things I miss when I’m away at college. Gratitude journals have allowed me to focus on the positive aspects of life, and have forced me to find more reasons to look forward to the next day. Not only has it made me develop a more optimistic outlook on life, but it has also improved my self-esteem. Celebrating the small wins has made everything seem more ‘worth it,’ and has eliminated my need to compare myself to others.
Moreover, it’s not just about being grateful for the things that happen in my life, but also celebrating everyone I get to share these moments with. Sending nostalgic messages to my friends has made me reminisce about the memories we got to create at school – and has allowed me to make a list for all the things we are going to do once we get back! I’ve also become more aware of the ‘invisible’ kind things that others do for us that we often take for granted.
I want to clarify that this isn’t about only recognizing how grateful we are only when we make a gratitude list. I’m sure we all have continual moments of gratitude. However, it’s the ability to remind ourselves of the good that’s omniscient during our bad days. It’s about focusing on factors that WE can control and are WITHIN our control. Often, we forget the little moments, especially when we’re so focused on achieving the ‘bigger picture.’ Thus, a young list can do wonders for our mind and soul.
There is actual neuroscience behind this! Numerous studies show that being grateful or counting blessings more regularly can lead to improved interpersonal relationships, boost your self-esteem, lower stress, and overall lead to a happier you!
UC Berkley conducted a study with 300 adults diagnosed with anxiety and depression. These adults were separated into three randomized groups. While attending counseling, the first group was asked to write a letter of gratitude once a week for three weeks. The second group was asked to record their feelings of negative experiences. The third group didn’t write at all. The findings showed that the first group reportedly had significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the study was conducted.
Furthermore, Dr. Alex Korb, the author of the Upward Spiral, suggests that gratitude can lead to an increase in dopamine. Our body’s favorite ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Dr. Korb mentions that ‘The more you’re grateful for, the more you find reasons to be grateful for,’ which I believe translates to the more we’re grateful for, the more we’re able to amplify our happy moments. With each gratitude list I wrote, I looked forward to the next day, curious to experience new moments.
Now, you don’t need a fancy journal to practice gratitude. I record my lists in the notes app of my phone, as I find it easy to look back and continue being appreciative of every single thing that has happened. So, grab a pen and paper and write down three things that you’re grateful for. Or, call a friend, a co-worker or family member, and tell them you appreciate them!
So, the same way my tutor smilingly asked me every day, ‘What are three things you’re grateful for?’ I’d like to ask you the same.