Inspired by Cassie from Upcycled Adulting, I wanted to talk about something that has impacted my life.
Gratitude, or more specifically, the practice of being grateful has shown positive effects in multiple scientific studies. The correlation is clear: being grateful is linked to increased happiness, overall better mental health, increased empathy, and better physical health.
You could play Devil’s Advocate and say, “well, there are other factors at play here. This doesn’t prove definitively that gratitude makes you happier and blah, blah blah.” And to that I would say, yeah, that’s true. You could say there are other factors that affect these results. But isn’t it just a big ole coincidence then that a bunch of case studies just happen to all include gratitude as a variable? So, I’ll err on the ever-so-cautious side that gratitude = good.
So, how do you do it? Writing a letter of gratitude to someone, even if you don’t send it, or keeping a gratitude journal are two ways of flexing your gratitude muscle.
I know, barf, right?
When I first heard about the benefits of gratitude, I rolled my eyes and thought it was corny. It seemed contrived and insincere, like going around the table at Thanksgiving and saying what you’re grateful for. I can hear some cliche answer from divorced Aunt Julie, who believes in the healing power of crystals and strongly advises you to get your tarot reading, about being “thankful for my health” or “being here with my family”. It’s not that I don’t feel grateful for things; it’s that it feels phony to point them out or celebrate them. But if that’s easy, then it wouldn’t be any trouble to start practicing it, even if it meant nothing, right?
So I decided to just try it. I added a line in my self-made mood journal that’s for gratitude. I list at least one thing I’m grateful for.
When I sat down to think about it each day, I realized just how easy it truly was, but not for the reasons I thought. Gratitude isn’t just a feeling. You don’t have to feel this humble sense of reverence and awe at how the fate of the universe cast this burden of good fortune on you, though you’re a wretched and undeserving soul. It can be approached logically and methodically.
I am in relatively good physical health. I don’t have a terminal illness. I have all my limbs. I have an awesome son, who is still here on this Earth with me. I still have both of my parents. Both of my siblings. I have a nice office job, after nearly 10 cumulative years in retail. I make decent money in a low-stress environment where I am afforded the opportunity to learn new things. I have a great boyfriend. I’m working toward things I love, which is so cool and exciting.
These things vary in significance, but they are the same in that I am grateful for them. Oh, and this feels like a good time to say this: gratitude is not a substitute for negative feelings. No one gets to tell you, “hey, you have so much to be grateful for. Don’t be mad/sad/upset about this other thing.” It’s manipulative, and it trivializes your feelings. However, naming what you’re grateful for does help put things in perspective and allows you to see the forest for the trees, or the silver lining, or the bright side. Pick a trite saying. It doesn’t erase anything bad or negative in your life; it just reminds you of the positive and cultivates warm, fuzzy feelings in response.
Are you really better off this way? YES! Because you can then see through the fog and know you can survive. You may be in a bad place, but you have x, y, and z. Life is about balance (life is about a lot of things, but one of them is balance). Your depression won’t go away from writing down what you’re grateful for–but you can say, “at least I have this” and derive some sense of pleasure or joy from that. It’s a lighthouse in the storm, at least.
I added this single line to my daily journal, and after two weeks, I did see a difference. It could be my overall self-care/mental health routine. It could be I’m listening to what I need more than what I want. And it could be that being more grateful has added to my robust self-care agenda and increased positive feelings in my life. Being grateful for things is more than just not taking them for granted or making sure you know what you have before you lose it. It’s a harbinger of better things to come, of all the good that exists in your life.
I feel like I’m never satisfied. I am always looking at the green grass on the other side. I’m not doing enough. I just struggle to really feel good or satisfied about much in my life. Gratitude allows me to slow down and say, okay, but I do have this thing, and I’m glad about that. It does put things in perspective, so yes, I’d say it works. Plus, with other parts of my self-care/mental health routine, I’m able to feel more content with my life where I am now.
Try it out! Do it as a rote writing exercise. You don’t have to feel anything. You don’t have to focus on achieving a particular effect. Just do it for a week and see what happens.