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On Gratitude: How it Can Change Your Life

By: Leah Hovey

woman writing in a journal besides a cup of coffee and a croissant

At some point during my undergrad, I was asked to complete a semester long project that included creating a "Gratitude Journal." My classmates and I shared a similar reaction of annoyance and disinterest. This task seemed childish, tedious, and highly nonacademic, so I did not take this project very seriously.

Essentially, I had to write down a short paragraph about what I was grateful and appreciative of everyday for a month. The beginning proved easy, as I could come up with obvious answers (I was thankful for my parents, friends, etc.), but as the months wore on, it became more and more challenging. I had a hard time thinking of obvious answers and had to really look into my day to realize what I was grateful for. Once I started to actually look into my day, no matter how bad it might have been, I started to realize how many great aspects of my life I was grateful for.

Now… before you think this sounds like another preachy, overly optimistic article, I want readers to understand that I am probably one of the most pessimistic people I know. Anyone I associate with can attest to how pessimistic and negative I can come across. I always think of the glass as half empty (which may be due to my overly sarcastic nature or a major depressive disorder) and I find it very hard to look on the bright side when I am having one of my harder days. This is why activities such as a gratitude journal honestly made me roll my eyes.

But soon after completing my journal and looking through the pages for a final edit, I came to realize just how privileged I am. In reality, although little points of gratitude may not have seemed that significant at the time, they truly added up. Having that journal made me look back upon my "bad days" and realize that although life may not be easy at times, I have so many people and aspects that make me appreciative of the world around me. My whole disposition towards this activity changed, and I understood now what this professor was trying to accomplish through this project.

Maybe starting a Gratitude Journal is not something for you, but nevertheless, I encourage everyone to bring more gratitude into their day. It can be so easy to get caught up in the silly annoyances we have in our lives. We as humans tend to always gravitate towards the bad as opposed to the good. It is so easy to complain to co-workers about work, peers about a school workload, friends about family and vice-versa. This gets us into a pattern of negative thinking, which contributes to a poor mental state and even becomes what we look for. For example, maybe your work day was not too bad overall today. But instead of thinking about how smoothly your day went, you focus on the one negative part of your day and use that to complain. This is a tendency most of us have, and this attitude is unhelpful to our self-care as well as our self-improvement.

So, to end this month’s theme of self-care, I ask everyone to try out a weekly task. At the end of your day before you go to sleep, before you unwind, or as you talk to your partner about the day you had, think of one thing you were grateful for that day. It can be as big as a friend letting you cry on their shoulder or as small as someone holding the door open for you at work. Whatever it is, find at least one moment of gratitude within your day. You can record it in a journal, tweet it, or even just think to yourself. Ending your day with a positive, mindful exercise will not only help you feel better in the moment, but it will help humble you as well. I am a firm believer that we choose how we perceive our realities. If we do nothing but complain, mutter, and focus on the annoyances of life, our lives will be filled with an underlying pessimism that follows us around. Pursuing gratitude is something that can change how you view this world, and how the world will view you.

If you would like to learn more about starting a gratitude journal for yourself, click here to find tips, templates, and ideas to start your journal.

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