By Riya Gopal
Psychologists and neuroscientists have created headlines everywhere explaining the health benefits of gratitude. Between creating an increase in overall happiness, deeper sleep, and reduction of cellular inflammation, who knew that a simple act of appreciation could go so far? However, gratitude is not just a half-hearted “thank you” to the people around you. True gratitude requires taking time out of your day, even if just a couple of minutes, to really reflect on what creates a genuine sense of joy in your everyday life. Of course, after reading so many articles on the benefits of this practice, I simply had to try it.
My intentions towards the beginning of my practice were very intrinsic in nature. Would this make my skin clearer? Would I win a million dollars? I decided to write down five things I was grateful for each morning, first thing when I woke up. The first morning, I excitedly opened my empty blue journal, flipping it to a clean sheet and taking out a colorful purple pen. As my pen touched the paper, this inexplicable change in quality shifted my mind from my intrinsic thoughts to the atmosphere around me. I began to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. I was suddenly so grateful for the way the sunlight streamed into my room. I was grateful for the tea that was sitting next to me, steaming aromatically from my cup. I was grateful for this moment of peace, in a still room, my legs crisscrossed underneath me. Paying such active attention to such pleasant feelings gave me this incredible rush of joy, one that is only experienced when in touch with genuine appreciation. Since that day, I can say that my joy has only grown more as I have continued this practice.
In addition to such genuine happiness, I also noticed something about myself. I had a tendency to appreciate others while neglecting what I loved about myself. While looking back at my past entries, I came to the realization that there has to be a balance between internal and external gratitude. I focused so much on the external, yet felt like I would be cocky if I wrote down what I liked about myself. This, my friends, is a toxic female habit. We as women tend to minimize our self-worth, feeling as though highlighting our strengths makes us less humble people. We deny and deflect compliments rather than simply saying “thank you.” Confident women get told by men that they are “bitches.” I never truly understood how much this vicious gender dynamic impacted my ability to express self-gratitude, but I embraced this revelation and changed my ways of appreciation. Of course, my external gratitude still remained, but I began to congratulate myself on my accomplishments, or tell myself that I was beautiful.
Being able to express both of these means of gratitude on paper changed me as a person. It has only been a month, but I already feel my chin rise higher than normal when I walk. I raise my hand more in class. I express how proud I am of myself. Not only has my relationship with myself changed, but my relationship with others has blossomed. I take the time out of my day to call my loved ones, or stay up with friends and really listen to what they have to say. I hug people a little harder before parting ways. So, pick up a blank journal near you, pick up a colorful pen, and really tap into what you love about yourself and what is around you. You will be surprised by how much you learn about yourself.