Have you been feeling a little stuck lately? It’s completely understandable if you were. It seems like taking care of our mental health has never been harder than in the last few years.
In times like these, you may wish you had some magic powers to bring some light into your life. But would you believe if we told you that you do have those powers in you?
In all of us there is a spark of light that can grow bigger and bigger, and more magical than ever, if we learn to accept it and master it. It takes the form of a small, simple habit that could change your life forever.
It is called gratitude – and if you keep reading, you’ll see why it’s a magical power.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is an emotion that involves being thankful and appreciative of things that surround you. As stated in a 2019 article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, “gratitude stems from the recognition that something good happened to you, accompanied by an appraisal that someone, whether another individual or an impersonal source, was responsible for it”. You can be grateful for experiences that happen, things that you own, people that are in your life, and so on.
By being grateful for something, you are actively acknowledging the good in your life. This is sometimes hard for many people, because we often get overwhelmed with the challenges that life puts in front of us. We get blinded by our negative emotions, and fail to see the positive side of life.
By practicing gratitude, you are able to make a much needed shift from that negativity. It may seem like you’d have to suppress your worries to be grateful, but that’s not the case at all! A healthy mind recognizes and accepts the struggles, but it doesn’t make the struggle its home.
In other words, by being grateful you’re able to achieve the balance between black and white, and simply make the good more important to you.
How does it work?
Let’s take a dive into your brain for a moment, while looking at a simple analogy.
Try to remember a route that you’re often taking. It could a way from your home to school or work, for example. The first few times you took that route, everything was new and unfamiliar. Maybe you weren’t exactly sure which way you had to go, and it took you more time to get from point A to point B. But as time went by and you learned the way, you started moving almost automatically. You didn’t have to think about directions and landmarks, you just went straight ahead and in no time you reached your destination.
Your brain also has pathways that go from point A to point B. These points represent different brain structures that are in charge of different functions of your thoughts, emotions and behavior. When you think about something often, you are “walking” a certain pathway again and again, and your brain is getting familiar with the route of that thought. And after some time, it becomes while getting there. At the same time, when you want to shift your way of thinking, your brain faces some problems because it doesn’t spend much time traveling those routes.
If you spend much time thinking negative thoughts, your brain is very good at taking you to negative places, because it learned that route very efficiently. But if you decide to make a change, and try really hard to go on a different, positive path, you are helping your brain learn that new route. Those new routes take you to certain brain structures that are responsible for positive thoughts.
And that’s how gratitude works – when you make it a habit to shift your point of view, you will be more likely to go to those positive places when things get bad, because your brain will take you there on its own.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
When you’re grateful, you’re acknowledging someone’s act as meaningful – you’re open-heartedly thanking the other person for whatever you’re receiving from them. This makes your relationships flourish and it strengthens your connections with the people around you. It can also show others that you’re not the one to take things for granted, as well as increasing the feelings of security.
On top of that, researchers have found many physical and emotional benefits of gratitude. It’s been shown that being grateful is associated with better physical health, life satisfaction, hope and personal growth, self-esteem, quality of sleep, happiness and well-being.
How do I make it a habit?
It’s been said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. So starting today and for the next 21 days, try keeping a gratitude journal. Of course, you could just spend some time everyday thinking about it, but writing it down could ensure you don’t forget to do it, and you’ll have it all at one place to re-read when you feel like you need to.
Every night before you go to sleep (or whichever time of day you feel like it!), take out your little journal and write down 3 things you’re grateful for. Some days you’ll have a bunch to write about, but some days you may find it hard. You may think “this day was horrible! How do I find anything to be grateful for?”.
But that’s exactly the point. There’s always something to be grateful for, no matter how bad our days get. Are you grateful to have a roof above your head? Are you grateful for the clothes that keep you warm? Are you grateful to have the privilege of having access to the Internet?
As we said before, it’s not about ignoring the real struggles of our lives. You are allowed to have a bad day or feel sad. But the world is not strictly black or white, and your gratitude journal is here to remind you that there’s a spark of light even on rainy days – you just have to be open to see it.
Do you think you’re ready to try out the magic? Don’t worry if it feels like it’s too good to be true. And don’t think that you can’t do it! As with any magic, all you have to do is believe.
Cunha, L. F., Pellanda, L. C., & Reppold, C. T. (2019). Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00584
Valikhani, A., Ahmadnia, F., Karimi, A., & Mills, P. J. (2019). The relationship between dispositional gratitude and quality of life: The mediating role of perceived stress and mental health. Personality and Individual Differences, 141, 40–46. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.12.014
What Is Gratitude? (2021, October 29). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-gratitude-5206817#citation-1
Young, K. (2020, October 15). The Science of Gratitude – How it Changes People, Relationships (and Brains!) and How to Make it Work For You. Hey Sigmund. https://www.heysigmund.com/the-science-of-gratitude/