Learning To Become Actively Grateful
Sometimes we worry too much. Sometimes we worry about how much we’re worrying. Our sources of stress can be many and varied: school, debt, relationships, health, happiness, purpose, career, life goals…on and on. But there’s one thing that can help make these issues less of a burden: gratitude.
Before we get to that, we must acknowledge that our worries are, in most cases, perfectly reasonable and legitimate. Student loans are scary. Depression is incredibly difficult for the affected person to deal with. Trying to pick our future career at 18 is pretty terrifying. Lying to ourselves about the weight of these topics and decisions isn't going to help; they're a big deal. It’s not wrong to worry about these sorts of things. We'll just need to learn to keep these worries to manageable levels for the good of our own mental and physical health. Handled properly, our worries can be great motivators. Ignored, these same worries can become a paralyzing. There are two steps we can take to avoid the latter.
Step one is to accept the current situation. It plain old is what it is, without amendments or stipulations or suppositions. Grumbling about how unfair life is will solve absolutely nothing. This is your authentic experience, your own personal struggle. (Please note that this is NOT a free pass for negative self-talk. There is no need to beat yourself up for not being perfect, or for not achieving all your goals yet. Instead, keep those unmet goals before you as inspiration.)
Once you’re able to accept how things currently are, step two is to feel gratitude. In nearly every situation you'll face in life, there will be one sweet drop mixed with the bitter in your cup. It’s now up to you to learn to savor and appreciate that little bit of sweetness. At first, it may feel ineffectual, but give it time. Keep going. Continue to search for something good in everything bad, worrisome, or difficult. And in time, you’ll notice that the challenges in your life have turned into opportunities for growth and joy.
You'll find it’s a bit like going to the gym. Until you start regularly engaging your body in repetitive action, you won’t see the results. You have to engage your mind in a repetitive quest for gratitude before you experience your shift in perspective. And just like you have to choose to go to the gym and do work, you’ll have to be the one to actively seek out the good in your life. But it’s worth it! It helps counter anxiety and gives you a more positive outlook. When you stop futurizing and just try to focus on and be grateful for the work of the present, you'll get further than you thought you could, no longer weighed down by your own negativity. Soon, you'll be able to look back over your accomplishments, in your work life, personal life, and/or mental life, and be proud of your progress.
Gratitude is one superpower anyone can acquire. I say “superpower” because with it, you alter your own reality. You remember the stresses and issues you focused on accepting before? They are no longer the same. Pressures have transformed into challenges, problems have become exciting things to tackle creatively, and your whole outlook on life is brighter. When you embrace the small joys of your life, you’ll grow immensely as a person, in both mental and emotional ways. (I'll leave the huge physical growth to The Hulk.)