A specific and simple mindset shift can make a big difference.
As we look toward the new year, many of us make resolutions. I’ve talked at length about ways to make these resolutions more likely to stick (hint: “Lose weight” is just not likely to happen!) A great many of them fail because the goals are not formulated in a way that is conducive to achieving them, or because we lose steam once the year gets underway, as Haagen-Dazs wins out over kale. Plenty of people have decided that this makes the whole notion of resolutions silly. And plenty of others are just not interested in the resolution game, are not particularly prone to making lists, or are resistant thinking of a new year as a clean slate.
But lots of us are more consistently on the hunt for simple shifts that can make meaningful differences in our lives, no matter what month it is. Maybe you are looking to adopt a healthier mindset. Perhaps you are in a rut, struggling with depression or anxiety. Or maybe you’ve noticed that jealousy, loneliness, or a lack of motivation are getting the better of you lately. It may feel that inspiration is a world away. Looking to ignite a spark?
Chances are you’ve heard this before, or you’ve skimmed this article, gotten to the previous sentence, and are disappointed that I haven’t given you some secret to the psychological universe that involves magical formulas or an app to end all apps. But just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean that enacting it doesn’t work. And just because it’s a simple and almost common-sense concept doesn’t mean that, once enacted, it can’t make a difference. In fact, all kinds of interesting research has shown that putting yourself in a frame of mind that focuses on gratitude for what you have is associated with improved emotional well-being.
If the mental health boosts aren’t enough for you, consider this: gratitude likely improves physical health as well. It may also improve your relationships, in terms of openness, communication and positive perceptions of your partner or friend.
Whether it’s keeping a notebook or jar full of moments big and small that you appreciate, doing a daily gratitude meditation, making what you’re thankful for a daily dinner-conversation opener or occasionally writing letters to people expressing appreciation for what they’ve meant to you, incorporating gratitude into your life as a consistent practice may very well make this coming year better than before. And best of all, it involves neither a treadmill nor an inordinate amount of kale.
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D, is a speaker and licensed clinical psychologist. She is the author of The Friendship Fix and serves on the faculty of Georgetown University. Her mental health advice column, Baggage Check, has appeared in the Washington Post Express for more than 10 years. She speaks to audiences large and small about relationships, work-life balance, and goal-setting, and she is a TV commentator about psychological issues.