Practicing Gratitude


Heather Smith


October 12, 2020

When I was an angsty teenager my brilliant Mom presented me with a journal and insisted that every day I had to fill one page with things I was thankful for. At first I would fill the page with snarky quips like, “I’m thankful for a door so I can close out my annoying family”, but gradually as my Mom continued to enforce the exercise despite my sour complaints, I began to sweeten the entries with more sincere acknowledgements. I’d become unhappy and downright unpleasant partly because of adolescent moodiness but also because I was dealing with loss and immense grief. Slowly as I filled the pages of my dreaded “Thankfulness Journal” something began to change. As I was able to acknowledge the good, it began color my perspective. My Mom helped me identify the war that anxiety, depression, hormonal moodiness, apathy, and even boredom was waging in my mind. There were also repercussions on my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. She made gratitude into a weapon which was more effective than I’d anticipated or was even willing to admit. Years later I became a teacher and my students were adolescent girls who had suffered severe trauma and loss. I found that their capacity to learn or merely engage with school life was closed off by walls of those same moods and symptoms I had faced at that age. I thanked my Mom again for her wisdom and encouraged my students to keep a gratitude journal. Although they greeted the assignment with eye-rolls and heavy sighs, I stubbornly refused to let their doubts extinguish my enthusiasm. The progress was slow at first, but after some time I noticed authenticity creep into their entries and as it did, I saw glimmers of hope and alertness peaking out from behind their masks of stubborn disinterest.

Perhaps my anecdote is insufficient to convince you of the powers of gratitude, and so I leave you these words from an article included in the Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter:

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

In fact, the field of psychology research resounds with results that suggest the simple act of being thankful can yield immensely positive results for your mental well-being. So today if you are facing uncertain circumstances like many of us are, I encourage you to pick up that weapon. Go ahead and let yourself roll those eyes, but if you commit to the practice just maybe despite yourself, that life could become brighter and you could become empowered in the battle against anxiety, depression etc. And for those Moms and Dads, if you're still cooped up with some angsty teens feel free to try out the assignment- here’s hoping it affords you some household peace.   

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