Midterms are here, and exams are close by. As students, we’re likely to devote a massive chunk of our attention and efforts to study, and we might cut out important things like proper nutrition, communication, skin care, physical activity, and so many other things that we consider to be everyday aspects of our lives. However, as we cut out these necessities, we may end up focusing on what we’ve lost, potentially spiralling into the negatives and everything wrong with our situation. This could translate into many unwanted and unnoticed changes in our lives, such as waking up and going to bed late, having less energy throughout the day, and not being able to wind down and relax.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, you arrive on campus and begin your day by getting your favourite coffee (or whatever you love to have most in the morning!). The barista hands you your drink with a big friendly smile and wishes you a great day. Next, you head to your favourite class of the semester, and your professor discusses something you’re passionate about. After class, you and some classmates make some jokes here and there, followed by you telling them what the rest of your day looks like, which in this case, is studying for your midterm. You then head to your favourite study spot, and the act of studying overwhelms your mind with negative thoughts. Now you’re back to how you’ve been feeling this entire week, and this process repeats the next day.
However, this raises the question, why do we only focus on the negatives even after having one, two, or a couple of positive things happen in our day? According to research, we’re more receptive to negative information for many reasons, including our proneness to make decisions based on potentially threatening stimuli and our inclination to interpret negative information as more truthful. But even if this is the case, is this negativity bias really the ideal way to live our lives?
It turns out it isn’t! In fact, many studies within the realm of wellness psychology show that implementing gratitude throughout our day allows us to live happier, improved lives simply because gratitude enables us to divert more attention toward the positives and less toward the negatives. Studies show a significant correlation between gratitude and enhanced mental health and well-being during times of hardship, and being grateful for random things (think about the example from above!) throughout the day is also associated with increased academic performance, greater life satisfaction, and a decrease in negative thoughts. So, considering this, how do we incorporate gratitude into our lives?
Gratitude journaling is an easy way to accomplish this, where you write down a few things you’re grateful for at any time of the day. Another great idea is writing a thank you note or letter to a friend or faculty member (professors deserve love, too!) or even going up to a classmate and telling them that you’re thankful for their notes or their initiative in asking a good question. And if you’re short on time, even being thankful mentally and counting your blessings, where you think of a few things that you’re grateful for and why you’re thankful for those things, are great options too!
So, the next time you’re studying for an exam, working on a project, or just not having a good time, it’s worthwhile to take a few moments from your schedule to reflect on some of the things you appreciate. Whether it’s the warmth of a room during a snowstorm or the first sip of coffee in the morning, there are many small things we can be thankful for, and actively appreciating these little details can make a huge difference in our well-being.