practicing the art
of gratitude is more than
just saying thanks
I am not new to change, and making difficult decisions has been essential to this change. Throughout elementary, middle- and high-school, I was constantly looking for a different place (or school) to be. More than anything in the world, I felt like I thrived when I was in a new environment. When I graduated high school, I knew instantly that I could not go straight into college for the next four years of my life. At seventeen, I landed in Paris. Alone. I was ready to spend the next six months to year travelling around Europe, staying in hostels, and meeting people as I went along. This didn’t go according to my plan. Within four months, I was back home working at Nordstrom e-Bar. Abroad I had been lonely and exhausted. All I wanted was to be home. The next decision was a bit more successful. I decided to transfer to Dublin City University from the University of Washington after a study-abroad in Ireland and have been here for over two years now.
Making decisions is never easy, however, I have found some ways that make the whole process a little less stressful!
Make a list
Ask anyone in my life- I am constantly making lists. I make lists ranging from what I want to do each day to things I’m grateful for. I think it has helped me so much to have a journal, and be constantly writing about what mind-frame I’m in. It makes my life so much easier when I can see everything written down. More than anything, it makes the tasks more manageable. For making decisions, pro and con lists are great, but I think looking beyond those are important as well. Address your concerns about the decisions, your reasons behind making this decision, and what is it that this decision will change or make better in your future. A study at Wake Forest University found that making lists can actually relieve anxiety. For me, my mental health was extremely important, and I felt that moving to Ireland would remove a toxic environment, which would in turn improve my health.
Learn from your prior experiences and mistakes
Life is fucking hard dude, and we’re all bound to fuck up sooner or later. I had attended University of Washington based on the fact that I didn’t feel like I had any other options. You always have options, even when they aren’t obvious to you. I learned that it’s important to seek out these options and look into them to make sure you’re making the best possible decision under the circumstances.
Be confident in your choices
This is your life, and no one else is living it. Hannah Arendt, a German philosopher and author of ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’, places a huge significance on living with oneself. When it comes down to it, you have to live with yourself and the decisions you make. When you’re confident in your decision, it really doesn’t matter what other people say.
Get excited about new life changes. Be optimistic in living your life. Being hopeful can benefit your physical and mental health, specifically with preventative benefits against physical illness (Snyder, 2006). Even more importantly, hope allows you to be more motivated to work towards improving your conditions and results in greater confidence about these improvements (Snyder, 2006).
Nothing is going to be the ‘end-all’ decision
My mom always told me that I wasn’t a heart surgeon, so the likelihood of my decisions affecting anyone were low (or in her words “you’re not operating on someone, you probably won’t kill anyone”). I realised this after my four months abroad. Travelling alone is exhausting, and really lonely. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t “make it” to six months, and felt like my pride was damaged. But I learned that how you feel and your health is going to be way more important than proving a point to someone.
Life is made up of decisions and choices. You’re constantly faced with options, and for me, these tips help me feel more comfortable in what I choose. This is your life. Live it like you have a say in it.
In a study conducted with college students, all were asked to describe an event for which they felt grateful. Half of the students were assigned to the ‘presence condition’ in which they were asked to describe the ways in which a thing or event has had a positive impact on their lives. The latter was assigned to the ‘absence condition’ and asked to describe what their lives would be like if all the good things, people, and events didn’t exist.
The results were astounding; the group that had been assigned the ‘absence effect’ condition and visualized how their lives would be worse off with the absence of the good things, people, and events responded with higher levels of gratitude (and positive emotion) than those who had been asked to simply count their blessings. This kind of thinking is referred to as ‘Mental Subtraction’ since you are mentally subtracting what you actually have.
In response to this psychological finding regarding the effects of gratitude on happiness, there has been an influx of ‘gratitude journals’ that have emerged in the market. However, as research has shown, sometimes simply counting what you have does not actually make you more grateful.
As illustrated before with the study, what has been found to be even more effective is visualizing what your life would be like if certain positive parts of it didn’t exist. One study revealed that comparing one’s actual self to a hypothetical self who is worse off can make us feel better. This is called the ‘George Bailey’ effect, in reference to the movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Like the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Avoid having to lose anything and just practice gratitude instead.
Gratitude, Alternative Therapy