AN ESSENTIAL HABIT FOR SELF-CARE
During my first year in college, my classmates and I had all but lost any excitement that we had for the college. Our misery could be credited to the inexhaustible list of assignments, loneliness, homesickness and existential crises, complemented by the identity crises. The general mood in classes used to be a very pessimistic outlook on life.
One of our professors gauged this and decided to try and help us out. She suggested that we think of three things that we were grateful for that day. I wondered how that would help, but after doing the exercise, I was surprised to find that I genuinely felt uplifted.
That’s right, folks. Gratitude can make you happy. Research says gratitude allows people to experience more positive emotions, to fully relish the good experiences, improve their health, face misfortunes, and form and maintain relationships of strength; all of which results in one’s happiness.
The word gratitude comes from the Latin word 'gratus' meaning pleasing; welcome; agreeable. Gratus is also the root of related terms such as grace, gratuity and gratis, all signifying positive moods, actions and ideas. Gratitude is the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Studies corroborate that people who practice gratitude experience the 'positive interpretation bias' where they automatically think about happenings around them in a more positive way. Further, they also have a 'positive attention bias' which allows for one to mainly attend to positive things that happen. Another cognitive distortion at place, is the 'positive memory bias', which ensures that one becomes more likely to recall happy memories as opposed to sad ones.
Lyubomirsky (2008) in her book, 'The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life you Want', explains how being grateful allows us to savour the glee that we experience at that moment. This consequently reduces the negativity that finds abode in our mind. She also points to how gratitude enhances your self-worth or self-esteem. These reactions can be of great aid to people trying to overcome trauma. They can better adjust, process, and cope with their trauma with the help of gratitude. Gratitude also improves resilience through which people can move on from trauma.
Thankfulness has been linked with a remarkably lower risk of a range of diagnoses including major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobia, nicotine dependence, alcohol dependence, drug “abuse” or dependence, and the risk of bulimia nervosa. (Wood et al., 2010).
Gratitude can also allow developing empathy for others, which improves social relationships that one has and makes one capable of better connecting to others. Gratefulness also makes allowances for forgiveness. It may even strengthen relationships by encouraging conflict resolution and reciprocal helpful behaviour.
How does one develop the practice of gratitude? One of the most effective ways is by keeping a gratitude journal. Before you go to sleep, you need to recall three to five instances of the day that you feel thankful for. They can be the simplest of things: a hot cup of coffee you had, a text message you received from your parents, etc.
Writing a letter, email or text message to a friend to whom you wish to express thanks to is yet another way. You may even click a picture of something you feel thankful for and keep a record of the pictures. The Show and Tell method, helps express it through your actions or voice out your gratitude to someone you wish to appreciate.
An important thing to remember is that practicing these habits shouldn’t result in not acknowledging negativity in your life. Both positive and negative emotions are valid. Ignoring sadness or anger only lets these emotions fester and exacerbate the situation. Therefore, let yourself experience these emotions as they come. And, in order to better cope with these negative feelings, practice gratitude for your peace of mind.