By Katie Kramer
Are we hardwired to focus on the bad occurrences and to ignore the good ones? When we reflect on negative events that have happened in our lives, it can be difficult to see the silver lining. A single negative action can overshadow all the positives. This is because we set high expectations for ourselves and others; failing to meet those standards makes us criticize our behaviors.
We expect so much from ourselves in part because of our exposure to social media and the success-oriented society in which we live. Many of us witness others’ accomplishments and compare ourselves to those around us, subconsciously wanting to be more successful than others portray themselves to be. Success is subjective, but it seems concrete to us because of the version of success society projects onto us. We often strive to follow it out of fear of failure. If we expect too much from ourselves and set standards so high that we are unable to reach them, we may start to doubt our abilities.
To overcome this negative mindset, we can reframe our thoughts in a more positive manner. The way to do this is to view each situation as an opportunity to experience gratitude. Focusing on what we are grateful for can help us paint the situation in a new light. Take a busy grocery store, for example. We can get inconvenienced by multiple things while shopping: the item we need being out of stock, people taking up the isle and refusing to move, long lines, products being too expensive, and many more. We arrive home in a bad mood and we wish we had gone to the store earlier in the morning. How would this situation change if we focused on the positives rather than the negatives? We have the money to buy supplies, we have the means of transportation to arrive at the store, we have access to food, and there are multiple stores that we can choose from. We often take everyday occurrences for granted, while many people across the world do not have the opportunities and privileges we do.
I have endured a lot of hardships that have shaped me to have a negative outlook on life. By practicing gratitude, I pulled myself out of the dark pit I had fallen into and saw these events in a new light. When I was in middle school, I was bullied for possessing different interests and values than my classmates. I reached out to my parents, teachers, and the principal, but I received no help. This caused me to feel unimportant and worthless. My negative mindset affected me years after I left the school. Eventually, I tried to see the positive things that happened as a result of my mistreatment. I pursued my interests instead of giving in to peer pressure, which led me to develop my passion for music and even to major in the subject. I treasured the friends I had who accepted me, and I learned that my voice was worthy of being heard. Most importantly, I learned to be independent and to take care of myself. I am grateful, in a way, that I was poorly mistreated in middle school, because it caused me to be the person I am today.
Are there any benefits to practicing gratitude? Absolutely; gratitude can improve both physical and psychological health. People who are grateful experience less intense pain than those who do not practice gratitude. Grateful people are often more observant with their health and happiness, and practicing gratitude can change the chemicals in our brain in a way that is scientifically proven to decrease pain. Gratitude aids in reducing toxic feelings such as jealousy, resentment, and aggression, and it can reduce the severity of depression. Gratitude can allow for better sleep quality as well, and can improve self-esteem, too, which leads to a decrease in social comparison.
Gratitude is a great first step toward self-acceptance and embracing our uniqueness. An example of practicing gratitude could be seen at TLC Garden’s recent team meeting. Each team member wrote their name on a piece of paper and passed it to the person on their left. The person on the left wrote two characteristics that they were grateful for about that person and passed it to the next person to write two more things. This continued until the team members had their papers back, and they could read all the aspects about themselves for which their colleagues are grateful. This exercise helped to boost the team’s confidence, morale, and understanding for one another, and it was a great insight into each team member’s values. Sharing in gratitude is an impactful way to connect with those around us and to explore what others are grateful for as well as our own gratitude. What are you grateful for?