The art of Gratitude
When I was 9 years old, I decided it was a good idea to go to a 2-week sleepaway camp for the first time. At this point in my life, I was the kid who cried hysterically on the phone to my mom at midnight during a sleepover, faking some type of illness to convince her to drop everything and pick me up. So, not surprisingly, when I went to sleepaway camp, I was miserable. I spent hours crying to my counselors about being homesick, writing daily letters to my parents, and begging to have them come pick me up. My constant meltdowns and pleas went unanswered, but somehow I survived the two weeks only moderately traumatized.
Yet, now when I look back on my time at camp, the things I seem to remember the most are the afternoons spent by the lake, eating junk food in the dining hall with my friends, and that one inside joke that only my cabin of 9 year-olds understood. Don’t get me wrong, I remember how miserable I was. For some reason, though, the good times stand out more clearly in my mind than the bad times I spent crying to my counselors-- and that was a lot.
Fast forward a few years, and I have been seeing the same phenomenon on Tik Tok. I have seen so many videos of people romanticizing the first lockdown. I vividly remember the feeling of loss, and struggles with mental health for many during this period. Despite those challenges, what seems to stand out in people’s minds now are the good Netflix shows, quality family time, homemade banana bread, and whipped coffee.
Our brains have a funny way of looking back on things fondly, even when those periods of our lives were filled with challenges, pain, and sadness. This doesn’t mean that the hard parts of life are erased from our memory or that we don’t acknowledge them; trust me, I remember my nights spent crying in my camp bunk. Rather, the positive aspects of different experiences seem to stand out a lot more in retrospect than they do in the moment.
Imagine what life would be like if our brains worked this magic in real-time.
This prospect got me thinking. As nice as this idea sounds, I know it’s not realistic. Life is hard. Failing to acknowledge our hardships and negative feelings isn’t healthy; you can’t heal your pain by invalidating it or ignoring it. However, changing our mindsets to recognize the good aspects of even our worst days can help train our brain to find the good more often and with ease. This notion of training your brain seems like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. For me, it has started with something as simple as writing down three things I am thankful for when I wake up in the morning and three more right before I go to sleep.
Training yourself to appreciate the good in life can be done in many different ways. But if you are anything like me, figuring out how to even approach this training can be confusing. Taking the time to write down what you are grateful for daily is a great place to start. Some days are easier than others-- and that is okay. We all have days where nothing seems to be going our way, making it harder to remember the good things in our lives. However, as time has gone on, I have noticed something. I have found that even on my worst days, remembering the things I am thankful for in my life has helped me realize that one bad day is just a bad day, not a bad life.