A Guide to Gratitude

by Emma Borrow

The holiday season is often recognized as a season of giving. I like to think of it as the portion of the year where we not only give gifts to our friends and family, but also give thanks and express our gratitude to those around us. As an HB community, we are so privileged to be attending such an amazing place and having a relationship with people who are providing us with amazing opportunities. So, why should we only count our blessings when the snow begins to fall and we seep into the holiday nostalgia? At times, the environment at HB can make us feel very stressed, the practice of gratitude, we can cope with these anxieties and further prevent them from rising in the future.

We all have aspects of our lives that occasionally overwhelm us. Although deep down we are happy that they are a part of us, when these aspects overwhelm us, we tend to not appreciate them. For me, one of these aspects is swimming. I love swimming, and cannot imagine my life without it. However, getting up at 5:00 am every single morning to go to practice is not always a delight. As I dive in the pool for y another swim practice on a cold and snowy Cleveland morning, I am tired from the previous night’s practice, and I dread what comes next. My coach assigns us a very challenging set that I am just not in the mood for. I get out of practice, frustrated that I was not able to complete the set as was expected, and I, along with my teammates, then leave practice, complaining about the practice and the season. We rant in the locker room that we hate swimming or wish that we hadn’t even woken up for practice that morning. After morning practice, I occasionally wish to eliminate is the amount of homework and assignments that our teachers give us each night. “DING DING!”, the school day ends. Freedom at last… or so I think. As I rush again to a swim practice, and I feel that I would rather stay at school than go home to all of the homework that I was assigned for tomorrow. I frown, and I whine that I have no life and that my teachers expect too much out of me. These are just two of the many occasions when I have found myself complaining about something that is contributing to my stress.

You can most likely relate to at least one of these scenarios, and if not, then you can think of a time in your life where you find yourself stressed out, or just checked out of life as a whole. At HB, we often let the stressful environment of our school rule our lives and our emotions. I see and experience this first hand, through the complaints that I make, and through the complaints that I hear as I make my way through the halls from class to class. I can fully understand and relate to the reasons why my fellow Blazers and I are complaining before, after, and during the school day. By doing so, we can temporarily alleviate the stress that we are feeling. However, this coping mechanism that we use to deal with the annoyances that we face as HB students can be improved. Complaining does not actually alleviate our frustrations, but give rise to more.

When we complain about some aspect of our life that is frustrating us, we are complicating the situation even more, and being ungrateful. For this reason, I am encouraging myself, along with the rest of the HB community to attempt to cope with these frustrations through the practice of gratitude.

In the HB community, we are all very fortunate to have such an amazing place to call home. Many times, we take the greatness of this institution for granted. When we dismiss our good fortune by complaining, we can actually ourselves to be more stressed. For example, when I am at swim practice, literally failing a set, I sometimes forget the reason why I am at that practice. In reality, I am lucky to be at practice so that I can get into better shape, I can drop time in my events, and succeed at our championship meet. I know that in order for me to accomplish my goals, I must do challenging sets, and trust that my coach has my best interest in mind. Instead of complaining about my coach, the practice, or the sport, I can remember that my coach wants and knows what is best for me, and I need to be grateful for this. In addition mentally thanking my coach, after every practice, no matter how I do or feel during that practice, I always thank my coach. I think that my teammates can attest to the fact that I would rather die than miss a practice, and for each of the practices I attend, I have left the pool deck very few times, without shouting, “Thanks Roderick,” to my coach. By thanking my coach, I am able to gain a sense of closure for that practice, practice gratitude furthermore de-stressing myself, and reminding myself the reason why I came to practice, to get better.

Practicing gratitude can have many health benefits. Along with these health benefits, through the practice of gratitude, we cane become less stressed. Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a researcher of gratitude has conducted many studies on the correlation between being grateful and the well-being of people. His research confirms that practicing gratitude can effectively increase a person’s happiness and reduce their depression. He also says that “gratitude makes life freer, lighter, and easier”, and that being grateful “empowers us to take control over our emotional lives, and not be at the whim of others or circumstances” (Pearson).  Another study in 2014, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, stated that grateful people are more likely to take care of their health and being grateful can improve one’s self esteem (Morin).

There is no doubt that HB has a very rigorous ciriculum. As students, we receive numerous assignments each night, and are expected to perform well in and out of school. Somehow, nearly all of us manage to do it, but nevertheless it is incredibly difficult, and we often complain about not only the homework itself, but also our teachers who are assigning it. When it comes time to actually complete the assignments, we sit down frustrated, stressed out, and confused as to why our teachers would ever assign so much. Although complaining and venting to others about our feelings of anxiety may seem like it is the best option, it is actually not, because it eventually leads to more stress. We may think that our teachers are expecting too much out of us or are punishing us, when on the contrary; they are actually trying to help prepare us for the future. According to Catherine Pearson from the Huffington Post, one way to practice gratitude is to write meaningful letters of gratitude. It suggests writing actual letters, as if you were writing a thank you note to someone or something, as a way to express thanks to them. So, if when you are feeling that you have too many tasks to complete for school, I urge you to write a letter to one of your teachers. Writing meaningful letters of gratitude has caused people to be significantly happier, because in writing the letter, you can vent your feelings of stress, and express gratitude for the outstanding teachers that we have here at HB. Writing letters of gratitude is a way to consciously reflect on the things that you are grateful for, even if they are the aspects of your life that are currently driving you insane.

Another method to alleviate stress through the practice of gratitude, is to engage yourself in meditation (Santas). If you are feeling like you have too much on your plate, and find yourself complaining about your life, let the following steps guide you to gratefulness as a way to unwind.

  1. Find yourself in a relaxed posture, in a calm, quiet, and undisturbed place. Close your eyes.
  2. Take a few deep, calming breaths. Center yourself and be aware of your surroundings or your environment. Think about being grateful for those physical aspects of your life.
  3. Now, focus your mind on the people in your life to whom you are close to. Think about being grateful for them, and how they have or are positively impacting you life.
  4. Finally, have gratitude for yourself, and all of things in your life that are going so well (even if those things may seem to be falling apart at the moment).
  5. Take a few deep breaths and open your eyes (Santas).

By engaging in meditation, you are able to clear your head and hopefully be less stressed about all of the things you have to complete. Although aspects of our lives can get very intense, focusing on what you have and how fortunate you are, instead of what you do not have, can put you in a better mindset and relieve stress from your life (Santas). Lastly, one of the easiest ways to practice stress-relieving gratitude is to simply say “thank you” to our teachers. This relieves some stress, and as I stated before, can furthermore provide closure to a situation that may be causing confusion for you.

Giving friends and family gifts during the holiday season is a great way to show our loved ones, just how much we appreciate them, however I do not think that we should limit our practice of gratitude to just the “season of giving”.  Although a natural practice of gratitude will not come immediately, it is never the wrong time to begin your practice. For example, with exams coming up, we are all very stressed out, but by practicing gratitude, we can relieve this stress, and show our appreciation for our teachers. So, instead of lashing out to your friends about how nervous you are for your exams, take the unexpected route and thank your teachers for a great first semester. Trust me, this will mean a lot to them, and will put your mind at ease as you finish your exams and begin a well-deserved break.

 

Works Cited

“How to Practice Gratitude for Health and Happiness.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Dartmouth, University Of Massachusetts. ” The Importance of Gratitude.” The Importance of Gratitude – UMass Dartmouth. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Morin, Amy. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.

Pearson, Catherine. “4 Incredibly Easy Ways To Practice Everyday Gratitude.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.