When I was in high school, I remember there being a huge focus on grades. Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors would constantly remind you how important it was that you do well in school so that you could get into a good college. I remember my friend commenting on his AP English class about how frustrated the teacher got, because all the students would focus on was how to get an A in the course. The students didn’t care about reading, writing or literature– they only cared about the number that showed up on their report card.
I watched this trend continue throughout my life. In college, a professor told the class to raise their hand if they only came to school so they could get a good job. I sat and watched as almost every hand in the classroom went up. Out of college, I now watch as most people my age, spend the majority of their waking hours working to get their first big promotion.
Being such an achievement oriented society causes us to have some flaws in our thinking. In particular, we have a backwards approach to happiness. Happiness is not seen as something you should innately have– instead, it’s something you should earn. This doesn’t seem like a flawed form of thinking until you look at it in action.
When we treat happiness as something you should earn, we always place it in the future. Instead of being happy now, it’s “I will only be happy when I ace this class”, “I will only be happy when I get into a good college”, “I will only be happy when I land a good job”, then “I will only happy when I get promoted”, etc. etc. We always find ourselves in a perpetual state of becoming happy, and we are never allowing ourselves to be currently happy.
This is where the idea of gratitude comes in. Gratitude has been scientifically found to be one of the biggest keys to living a happy life, and the reason for that is very simple. Gratitude reverses the process of always placing happiness in the future.
When we apply the concept of gratitude to our own lives, instead of focusing on the future, we take the time to appreciate and be happy about the things we have already done. We allow ourselves to be happy, by thinking in reverse. We focus on the fact that we have gotten good grades, or went to college, or gotten a good job, instead of focusing on what we don’t have.
For obvious reasons, practicing gratitude is good habit to have, but it’s especially useful for busy-aholics. One of the reasons people get addicted to being busy is because they are constantly trying to earn their happiness. When you shift from a future-based happiness, to a present-based one, you give yourself one less reason to be busy all the time.
For those of you who are wondering, how you practice gratitude, it’s pretty easy. Many people recommend creating a gratitude journal, where each day you write a handful of things you are grateful for that day. If journaling is not your thing, you can also just have a daily ritual where you mentally list 5 things you appreciated today.
In both cases, I recommend having a set time you practice your gratitude, such as after you brush your teeth, but before bed, or before each time you eat a meal. Having a set time for your gratitude will cause the practice to quickly become a consistent habit, and maintaining the habit over time will cause your brain will rewire itself. You’ll find yourself thinking more positively more often.