Junior year has been just as strenuous and time-consuming as everyone said it would be. From the first week of school, I found myself completely overwhelmed with my AP classes, ACT prep, the school newspaper and cross country. Before I could catch my breath from one busy day, the next one started. All the pressure I was feeling left me feeling depleted. I realized I needed to shift how I was thinking about all my work, in the hope it would shift how I felt.
In thinking about how to shift my approach to junior year, I recalled a recommendation to write in a gratitude journal. I must admit, I was skeptical of its promised benefits. I didn’t see how writing something down that you were grateful for could help with emotional management, let alone make me a happier person. Though I doubted the “power” of a gratitude journal, those who had recommended it were trustworthy, and I decided to give it a try.
I chose to write a simple sentence or two that would express something that I was grateful for that day. I wanted to make sure this exercise was not too time-consuming. What I wrote down could be as minimal as, “I had a nice conversation with a teacher” or as important as, “I’m grateful for the nice message I got from a friend. It really helped me to remember my values and the confidence I have in myself as a person.” I came to enjoy the freedom my gratitude journal gave me. There were no rules. I could write about anything or anyone as long as it was positive. There was something therapeutic about the task, and soon I started to experience a more balanced perception of my day.
The research on gratitude corroborates my experience. Studies show that expressing gratitude helps to make us happier and more positive about our lives, which in turn has a tangible impact on our psychological well-being and self esteem. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami performed an experiment in which they tested the effects of expressing gratitude. They asked one group of participants to write about the things that they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. Another group wrote about situations or events that had irritated or angered them, and the final group wrote about all events without emphasizing if they were positive or negative. The results showed that after ten weeks, “those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.” Before writing in this journal, I would wake up every single day with metaphorical devil horns sticking out of my head and a frown on my face. After a while, I started to feel less irritable, and I started each day with a more encouraging outlook. I have made more of an effort to control my annoyance at family members.
Expressing gratitude improves time management and helps us to get more things done with less stress. It can help us to find more meaning in our work and view it in a more in a positive light, which can make it easier to complete tasks without anxiety. At the beginning of the year, I would get so anxious about school work and studying that my stress started to interfere with productivity. Writing in my gratitude journal has helped me to put my work load into perspective. I take each day, one at a time, instead of getting overwhelmed by thinking about the entire week all at once.
Oftentimes, we get bogged down in thinking about the negative, and we neglect to remember the good moments in our lives. Too often, this negativity infringes upon our mood and perception of life. We must make a conscious effort to think about the many positive aspects of our lives. Happiness is not the absence of problems, nor is it about everything being “perfect” all the time. Happiness is the ability to overcome challenges and acknowledge the good moments, even on the toughest of days.