2 ways to create a happy mindset in these dark times

Taking time to appreciate what you have – in life, in work, in the world – boosts your mental health, says Gregory Adam
16th December 2020, 10:53am
Gregory Michael Adam Macur


2 ways to create a happy mindset in these dark times

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Research shows that spending as little as five minutes per day being grateful improves your mental health.

Right now this is probably something all of us could do with taking note of - but what does this mean in reality? Essentially, if you actively pay attention to the positive things in your life, your wellbeing is better than if you do not.

It sounds simple on paper, but you'll reply: "I don't think like that."

And it's a fair comment. Why would you?

Humans are not innately good at recognising what we have around us. We are driven to want more, to do more, to seek new experiences. This is great in many ways but it means we become very bad at appreciating what we have around us.

And so saying "I don't think like that" makes sense. But like anything, if you practise and make something a habit then it becomes easier and the benefits are revealed.

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And think of this, too: If spending our time actively engaging gratitude improves our mental health, what do you think actively engaging in resentment or envy will do to you?

So how can we start this process?  

1. Really recognise the positives

Actually say out loud what you are grateful for - it's as simple as that.

This might take a few tries before you can do it, but, trust me, it is worth it. The first time I tried, I felt self-conscious and even a little odd. But this feeling soon goes - after all, it feels strange simply because it is new.

I started to do this while tidying my apartment. I simply said out loud the things I am grateful for. You can think them in your head if it is more convenient but I enjoy the feeling of saying them with conviction.

What do you say? Whatever you are grateful for! From "I am grateful for being able to talk", or "I am grateful for having friends" to "I am grateful for having food".

This can work equally well for school when we are feeling stressed or struggling with workloads. For example: "I am grateful to have a job I care about" and "I am grateful to be working".

The more you do it, the more you start to realise there are a plethora of things you should appreciate and cherish.

Once you're into the habit, how long should you do it for?

The research indicates that as little as five minutes per day reaps positive results. So, why not start with five? Or, maybe start even smaller and simply start by saying one thing a day.

How has this impacted on me? I can say outright that I feel more thankful and positive. I also find myself feeling more motivated. Less time is being wasted on resentment and more time is being spent on meaningful actions.

If you're still unconvinced, then try it. For one week every day practise saying one thing you are grateful for and tell me after a week that you don't feel the benefit.

2. Reframe your thinking

How, though, do you do this if you are not feeling in the right frame of mind to feel positive? Well, this is where you have to reframe your thinking.  

For example, if you wake up and say, "I am tired, I don't want to work and I just want to stay in bed," then you will have a bad day.

If you wake up and say, "It is good to be up, I am so glad I actually get to have a job, and, even better, I have a bed to go back to at the end of the day."

This has helped me at school many times, when something goes wrong or you have to have an uncomfortable interaction with another staff member, simply say to yourself, "This is an opportunity to learn," or, "This uncomfortable conversation has made me more resilient for future interactions."

I am not saying this makes you feel better instantly, but it builds up a behavioural circuit of positivity as opposed to negativity. More importantly, even feeling a bit better is better than not.

This method of framing your mind is so important. People are both extremely complex and yet, simultaneously, simple.

The story you tell yourself changes your mood. Research shows that even a fake smile makes people feel happier - you can test that yourself right now if you want.

For me these two techniques have not only been positive in my life, they have also become fundamental and essential parts of my day. I urge you, give it a go.

Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL & EAL. A Practitioner's Guide

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