By Laura Keys, LCSW- December 22, 2020 –
Let’s face it, 2020 has been a year like no other. The pandemic, racial tensions, a divisive election, raging wildfires and so much more have filled our lives with loss, chaos, and immeasurable stress. Even the most positive and stable people have been pushed to the limit this year.
Have you noticed, however, that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation? They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma and appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss.
This ability has allowed some to keep their head above water when the waves of this year continue to crash into us. How can all of us learn from this and see the importance of focusing on what we can appreciate rather than what is wrong?
Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.
This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is “Thank You,” that will be enough.”
Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most.
One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.
Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives, and had more school satisfaction.
Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”
Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:
- Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
- Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
- Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
- Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
- Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better
Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal.
A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds). A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism, and humility.
Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.
If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today, or experiencing another sunrise.
Once the list gets started it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.
For more information on the benefits of gratitude see http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.