A few months ago, I read an article that posited that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s resilience. That makes a lot of sense to me. I’d like to think I’m a pretty resilient person, but when things keep going from bad to worse, being an optimist seems more like a liability than an asset. Nonetheless, in what Oscar Wilde might call a triumph of hope over experience, I’ve been trying to cultivate resilience. Physical activity – walking, hiking and yoga, mostly – has helped a lot. Practicing mindfulness and meditation have also been key, as have donating my time to local organizations and just getting outside as much as possible. Another thing I’ve found really useful is keeping a gratitude journal.
I know some people roll their eyes at the idea, but it really does work. It’s not a huge commitment or anything, just a few minutes a day. Everyone has a different routine for theirs; I try to come up with 5 things every night that I’m grateful for or otherwise happy about. I’ll admit, it’s not always easy. Some days I write things like “I’m grateful that tomorrow will be better, because it can’t possibly get any worse.” And tomorrow usually is better.
Since I began my gratitude journal this past New Year’s Eve, I’ve found a lot of unanticipated consequences. First off, I’m more aware of my surroundings. I notice things in a different way: good food, pretty scenes, spontaneous moments of kindness, anything I might want to write down. The other thing is that it gives me something nice to flip through when I’m having a bad day. Things I’d otherwise forget – the smell of freshly cut lilies, the sight of a particularly pretty moon, the flight attendant who slipped me an extra nip with a wink – are recorded, which makes them seem more momentous, more real somehow.
I’ve spent a lot of time searching for big-picture happiness, but riding the synergy of these micromoments has been far more effective. What’s more, gratitude, like optimism, and even arguably happiness itself, is a habit. If you’re in the habit of appreciating the people and things around you, you’ll find that you yourself are more appreciated. It’s simple math: you get what you give.
For being you.
• Call me old school, but I prefer to keep my gratitude journal by hand in a little Moleskine notebook. I have a few different ones and, although they can be a little pricy, they feel really special, which makes me a lot less likely to accidentally leave one on a train or something. They’re great if you’re looking for a journal or a sketchbook or some other special place to jot down ideas, song lyrics, anything.
• If you’re more technologically inclined, there are a bunch of apps out there, the most famous of which is this one.
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” -A.A. Milne