You have been rejected by all the master’s programmes you applied to in the U.S. You try to land a job before you reapply but not a single company calls you for an interview. In addition to being deeply disappointed with you, your parents start giving your younger sister more responsibilities, making you feel like a no-good in all respects. As your friends are either employed or studying, you don’t have anyone to hang out with. To top it all, your father is diagnosed with two blocks in his heart and may require an expensive procedure. Great timing, you tell yourself, as the family finances are strained right now.
When you bemoan your lot to your favourite aunt, expecting her to sympathise with your plight, you are taken aback by her response. “I know you are going through a rough time. Why don’t you spend a few minutes every night jotting down five things you are grateful for?” Despite your misgivings about this advice, you give it a try and find a significant shift in your mood. Research bolsters the idea that evoking feelings of gratitude can have positive effects on your overall well-being.
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have found that when we consciously think about the positives in our lives, no matter how badly things are going, we experience better emotional health and more favourable interpersonal connections. In fact, in one study, people who were told to list their ‘blessings’ everyday were more likely to help another person.
Another study, by Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, found that gratitude also boosts our sleep. Students who wrote in a gratitude journal every evening reported that they slept longer and better. And we all know from experience that a good night’s rest can definitely aid our mood the following day, thus setting the stage for more positive experiences.
In his book, Authentic Happiness , Martin Seligman describes Gratitude Night, which is part of his Positive Psychology course at the University of Pennsylvania. Students were each asked to bring a guest who had made an impact on their lives, but they had never really thanked, to class. The guests were not told why they were being invited for the session. During class, each student thanked their guest and described how they had made an impression on her life. In fact, people were so moved by the exercise that there “was literally not a dry eye in the room.”
Very often, we take the people who matter most to us for granted and rarely express how we feel about them. Perhaps, we all need to practise Gratitude Night once in a while, where we make a concerted effort to thank those who make a difference to our lives. We can cultivate a gratitude mindset by maintaining a gratitude journal, writing a letter to a grandparent who has impacted us in small and large ways, sending flowers to a school teacher who made us believe in ourselves over twenty years ago, posting a card to a friend who held you tight when you failed your test, giving sweets to the security guard who opens the door every time you enter the office or thanking mom for simply being who you are today.
And, especially when the going gets tough, being grateful may help us tide through trying times. As Charles Dickens famously said, “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
The author is Director, PRAYATNA. email@example.com