Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tip #7 - Learn to be grateful

I read a set of really great books a few years ago about the emerging field of Positive Psychology.

Although there was a lot of good information in the books, and I highly recommend reading anything on the topic, one exercise in particular stuck with me from the book Authentic Happiness by Positive Psychology founder, Martin Seligman.

In the book, he talks about keeping a "Gratitude Journal" where you write down what you're grateful for every day. I can't remember the exact details (and I gave my copy of the book to a friend who never returned it), but what I got out of it is trying to write down 10 things a night that I am grateful for. I don't do it every night, usually just when I recognize that I'm in a funk and feeling like there's nothing good in the world.

I'm a big believer in the ability of a person's brain to control their mind, and this is a perfect example. Force yourself to write down 10 things that you're grateful for. You can make them wacky or weird, just do it honestly and whole-heartedly and see if that doesn't improve your mood.

By the way, I choose to write my 10 things at night because that's when I find my PhD Depression creeping in, but I think it could also be a great start to the morning. It is also nice to just list things in your head in the middle of the day if you find yourself in a low.

Here's what I wrote today :

1) I am so happy to have created this blog because writing it has gotten me through a dark PhD time.

2) I feel lucky to have a "job" in these hard economic times - a lot of people would do anything to be in my position.

3) I love the summer and am grateful for these months of sunshine.

4) I am glad to have made it through 4 years of my PhD program, because I remember a lot of hard times, and making it through that makes me feel mentally strong.

5) I think it's really cool that you're reading this right now, which means my words are resonating with someone. I definitely appreciate my readers!

6) I am thankful for tea and coffee, they give me comfort when I'm down.

7) I am happily surprised by talks that have free food and/or drinks.

8) I enjoy the rain that happens when I'm working - then it's soothing AND I don't get wet.

9) I am so glad that the world is in a place where, even living on a small stipend, I can travel and explore and learn as much as a person of greater means (thanks priceline and expedia!).

10) I like how finishing a 10-step list makes me feel like I've done something productive.

As you can see, I put down big, universal things I'm grateful for, as well as little, random things. I don't think it really matters, I just have fun with it. So now I want to hear what you're grateful for, leave your list in a comment!

And, in case you were wondering, the books I mentioned reading at the beginning, in addition to Authentic Happiness were: Learned Optimism and What You Can Change and What You Can't. I found them a nice combination of self-help book and psychology text book. If you read (or have read) any of them, let me know what you think!