"What are you grateful for?"
It's a small difference from "What are you happy about?" but a big difference in tackling depression.
When I'm depressed I am happy about zero per cent of things because depression is the absence or inability to feel happy about anything. But, I can still feel grateful.
Last year I played my first gig at the Hollywood Bowl and it was an amazing experience. But when I got the call I was going through a major bout of depression and was completely incapable of feeling happy about it. It was almost like an outside me was looking down wondering why I wasn't thrilled to finally have an opportunity to play at this historic location and to move from frequent audience member to performer.
I was, however, able to feel grateful. And as I physically wrote down in my journal that I was thankful for this opportunity, my mind began to follow suit and the depression cloud began to disappear.
In 2003 Dr. Robert Emmons began a study to track the results of gratitude in the daily lives of individuals. He studied roughly 200 college students divided into three groups with the request that they journal a recap of each week. One group was to record things that happened in life that they were grateful for, one was told to keep track of annoyances and the third was asked to record neutral events.
After ten weeks the students recording gratitude reported exercising more often, having fewer physical symptoms and feeling more optimistic about their coming weeks.
Dr. Emmons then conducted a second study believing that recording gratitudes just once a week was not enough to deliver the results he had hoped for. He conducted a second study over two weeks with participants journaling daily but found that a two week period was not enough to create a lasting change of behavior.
Lastly, in a third study, Dr. Emmons asked 65 participants with neuromuscular diseases to keep journals for three weeks. Results showed those who kept gratitude journals began to sleep better and report less negative mood.
How can you begin to add gratitude to your life?
Create a journal where every morning you write down three things you are grateful for.
Commit to it for three weeks and observe your mood and stress levels and how they've changed.
If you're looking for other ways to include gratitude into your life here are a couple tips:
- Purchase some fun thank you cards and send them to people who have done something you appreciate
- Add prayer or meditation into your daily routine as a way of deeply focusing on things you are thankful for
- Record three things in your journal in the morning and evening (for a total of 6!) and see how it affects your dreams
- Journal through the alphabet - stretching to 26 makes you realize just how grateful you are for coffee and that you might like zebras a little more than you initially thought...
- Use each meal as a trigger to tell you it's time to be grateful not only for food but for everything and everyone who has helped provide it
Do you have another way to show or remind yourself to be grateful? Let me know what it is!
Less pain and more music!