With bad news filling our television screens and social media feeds to the brim, eventually spilling into our lives, it’s hard for the average Pakistani to have a positive outlook.
Everyone has days where it feels like nothing is going right; where it is hard to find anything to be thankful for. Amidst the bombs and bullets, the recurring failures of the government and society at large, it is no wonder that most of us experience depression and stress on a regular basis.
Often we struggle to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to overcome negative mental states and end up suffering more than we need to. A big part of improving mental health has to do with making small positive changes in one’s life and as I discovered during one experiment, sometimes a dose of gratefulness is all you need to ward away the blues:
Day 1: Accidental beginning
On a particularly gruelling work day a few weeks ago, I remembered an article I had read regarding the power of gratefulness as a mechanism to cope with stress and depression.
On a whim, I grabbed a blank piece of paper and wrote down three things I was grateful for. I put the paper away in a drawer and then promptly forgot about it.
That evening, when I returned home feeling inordinately upbeat, it took a while to realise that this burst of positivity could be related to the gratitude exercise I had done. So, I decided to give gratitude a shot.
Day 2: The journaling
The next day, I woke up excited about this new idea and got to work noting down some of the things I was grateful for that morning, and waited for the magic to happen.
But, it didn’t.
Not immediately, nor a few hours later. My work day followed the same pattern as the one before it and the unsuccessful attempt at boosting my mood just made things worse. Was I doing something wrong or was gratitude not all it was cracked up to be?
Day 3: Variety is always good
My motivation level was lower but I managed to write down a couple of things I was grateful for that day (torrent downloads, a get together with friends scheduled for later that day) and went off to work. With no noticeable improvements in mood, I slogged my way through work and then went off to see my friends.
As the evening wound down, I expressed some heartfelt gratefulness towards my friends. Bingo! Instant mood lifter. Not just for me but all my friends who followed my lead and expressed similar sentiments.
Everyone went home happy. Turns out there is more than one way to be grateful.
Day 4: Time for introspection
Instead of reaching for my gratitude journal, I decided to review the lessons of the past few days and came to one simple conclusion.
The practice of gratitude is its own reward. Doing it in order to make oneself feel good is likely to have zero effect because then it goes from being an outward focused act to being an inward focused, selfish one.
My change in tactics the day before had happened spontaneously in a genuinely emotional moment and had had an impact for exactly that reason.
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That day, I skipped the morning journal and before going to bed, wrote down one nice thing about my life. It made me smile, and that was enough.
Day 5: Trying new techniques
I decided to google some tips on how to practice gratitude, and though journaling is the most commonly recommended method, there are others.
Most of them were too new-age for me (expressing gratitude through art? Pass), but others made sense, so I decided to try them out.
Writing gratitude letters seemed like a good place to start. So I sent off an email to a close friend I have not met in a while, explaining in detail what her presence had contributed to my life. She was surprised but also touched and we reconnected, which ended up making us both happy. Win win.
Next up on my list was appreciation of nature. What better time to do this than at sunset. So that evening, I went off to my favourite sunset watching spot and spent half an hour becoming at one with nature. It was a beautiful day and I was truly grateful to be able to witness it.
Day 6: Making a habit
Weekends are where all good habits go to die. So I barely scratched together a couple of sentences for the journal and called it a day .
At the end of an entire day that was spent binge-watching the new season of Orange is the New Black, I realised this wasn’t going to be easy. Developing a new habit and keeping it in the long term requires consistency that most people (including yours truly) are not good at once the novelty wears off.
Day 7: Sharing the positivity
Needless to say, some people in my life had at this point started wondering why I was not being my usual grouchy self. So I decided to share what I had been doing and in the process motivated others to hop on the gratitude train. Things were looking up once more.
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In the weeks since this activity, I have tried to keep up the gratitude attitude, and it has had a considerable positive impact on my life. It has helped me connect on a deeper level with the people I care about and also by letting me appreciate the better things in life.
So if life is getting you down and you just cannot stand the thought of one more bad day, give gratitude a shot.
We all have to live with a lot of negativity bombarding us on a day-to-day, basis but it certainly shouldn’t stop us from appreciating the good things in life.