We live in an information-dense world where we’re continuously bombarded with so much of notifications in real life and especially through the greatest discovery of 21st century, social media. Facebook showing off your friend at a vacation spot; Instagram highlighting your colleague’s candlelight dinner with her fiancée; Twitter show-casting your humorous college mate posting about his sudden promotion. Sounds familiar? Ever reflected the aftermath of encountering such information? How does it make you feel about yourself?
Like everyone else is better off having the time of their lives while you’re picking yourself from and cleaning yourself of the mess you are. It is the easiest to be ungrateful especially in this era where you can consciously choose to scroll down your feed to make you feel crappy about yourself. It is the easiest to be ungrateful when you can beat yourself up when you failed to achieve the impossible standards set by society. It is the easiest to be ungrateful when you are wired to have a higher tendency to spot the negative information than the positive ones through evolution as anything negative can be classified as a threat to your survival. But why doing the opposite, being grateful which has become the prerequisite for happiness is so important?
Gratitude has been discussed even in the Roman culture but only gained popularity recently as neuroscientists have started to peer into the effects it has on our brains and how it improves overall wellbeing. It is also developing a great reputation in the field of positive psychology. Until all this took place, gratitude making one happy was only seen as an assumption lacking evidence but now many research and studies are backing up that claim. When looked into what gratitude does to our brain only fascinates us even further. Not only it enhances the secretion of dopamine and serotonin which are the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters but it also decreases your cortisol (stress hormone) levels thus regulating stress. The basis of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are often time highly related to the levels of serotonin, dopamine and cortisol in our body and by practising gratefulness one can revoke not only positive thinking but regulate these hormones for increased quality of life. Thus, since I started being thankful for every blessing of my life, I began to see how I felt ‘good’ often and dealt with situations considered to be stressful in calmer ways instead of letting all of hell break loose.
Additionally, gratitude not only makes you feel thankful but it encourages you to actively find for things to be thankful for especially the little things that are always overlooked. When I began practising gratitude, it took me a while to understand that it always came down the simplest of things. It was never the achievements, it was never the material things owned, and it was surely never the name that came with the successes. But it was always the cute little stranger girl I became friends with, the memory of walking back home under the drizzling rain, leaving extra coins in the water dispenser for someone else or simply complimenting someone I’ve never met before. It was also the daily blessing that we overlook such as the amazing food we ate and the ability to call a loved one and for them to be alive to pick up the call and talk to us. Such moments that are looked for to be immensely grateful about encourages us to be mindful to enjoy it; to be in the moment and experience it as what it is. Because often, we’re either living in the past regurgitating what has happened or in the future overthinking the worst-case scenarios. When we began appreciating even the smallest of thing, we began to learn to see the positive and the good things of even a major problem and nothing can stand in our way to happiness.
Gratitude is also easily mistaken as something to be outsourced to someone else, to appreciate a friend, a colleague or your parents. But we are forgetting someone so important, someone, who is the centre of our existence, ourselves. How much do we be thankful for our ability to all that we’re doing? For me to be able to write this article, and for you to be reading it right now. For me to want to tell stories and share useful information, and for you to want to look for things to improve your wellbeing. When we begin appreciating ourselves for all that we’re capable of doing, we’re not only allowing happiness into our lives, we’re also allowing acceptance of ourselves. It is so easy to bash someone for a mistake they did if we do not have the empathy to understand their circumstances when they did it. When we accept ourselves together with all our quirks and traumas and mistakes through gratitude, we begin to have more empathy and compassion for ourselves. And Thich Nhat Hanh says when you understand, you cannot help but love which ultimately leads you to self-love.
I’m a happier person because of gratitude. I can say that it saved me from my own darkness and the battles I had within myself. Learning its neurological effects was just more reasons to convince myself to continue practising what I was already doing. But I did find myself realizing the power of the existence of little things in life and also how it led me to ultimately accept and love myself even more. How can you not be happy when there is peace within you? I wish you the same love and peace.