It’s Aliiivee

Isn’t it funny how you can go from being obsessed with something, to completely forget its existence? At least this is what it’s been like for me with this blog for the past couple of weeks. I have completely forgotten its existence.

Well, almost. I guess I have been feeling kinda bad for not writing. “Fortunately” it’s been easy to shake off the feeling of guilt, considering my rather insignificant (sorry, Mom and Dad) group of followers..

To tell you the truth, this whole blogging thing is pretty difficult for me. It’s not just something I happily and easily sit down and do. It takes time, requires inspiration and thinking (ugh).

Work has been extra challenging lately, leaving me in a baked potato state at the end of the day.  So, instead of blogging, I have retreated to some easy activities in my freetime. You know: watching an embarrassing amount of Grey’s Anatomy, consuming easily read books, and tidying my apartment.

Although these activities kill tired hours and provide a sense of accomplishment*, they often leave me feeling depressed at the end of the day. I hate wasting good time (although I do appreciate all the good memories I have with Meredith Grey).

Blogging, on the other hand, leaves me with a satisfying feeling of legitimate  achievement. Especially when I see the final post published online. Not only does blogging challenge me, it also matures my mind, makes me grow, and sparks joy.

The concept of sparking joy is something I came over in one of my easy-read books: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Although quickly read, the concepts in this book had a transformative impact on the way I consider and think about tidying. HOW?? you ask? Well, if you will allow me to ease back into the world of blogging, I will tell you all about it in my next post.

And if you can’t wait, well, then read Marie Kondo’s book. It shouldn’t take you long – however, the subsequent tidying might!

* How does Grey’s anatomy provide a sense of accomplishment, you might think? Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I have actually managed to complete the entire show – all 14 seasons, from start to finish. It took me about a year, and I really do feel like I should get a medal, or at least a certificate that I can hang on the wall in my study among my fancy university diplomas…  Not that I have a study… Or fancy university diplomas… But you (and hopefully Shonda Rhimes) get the picture.

The Positivity Advantage

Throughout generations, human beings have been wired to be aware of negative circumstances and consequences in their environment, in order to survive. Although we no longer watch out for saber-toothed tigers, an evolutionary imprint called “negativity bias” still lingers within us. Said bias causes negative events to have a greater effect on the human psyche, than neutral or positive things. In fact, research has found that it takes about three (but ideally six) positive comments, experiences, or expressions to compensate for the damaging effects of one negative.

While the negativity bias may protect us in situations related to survival, it may cause distress in everyday encounters. I personally experienced such distress when I moved to a new country to start a two-year graduate program. Although I appreciated the dynamic and challenging nature of the program, it was also very tiresome and insecure. The constant pressure for performance was intense, and unlike anything I had experienced before. Over time, negative thoughts caused by the pressure at work started to consume my motivation and mental energy.

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To cope with the stress, I started keeping a gratitude journal, in an attempt to habituate mental positivity. Initially, I used the app 5 Minute Journal. Every morning I would log three things that would make the day great. In the evening, I would scan the last 24 hours for things that had made the day great. The app also allowed me to upload a photo to commemorate each day, which was a nifty little feature!

It didn’t take long before I noticed the difference. Most noticeably, I started to recognize and appreciate the “little things” in life. In the beginning, I was simply looking for things to write about. With time, however, I started noticing all the great things in my environment naturally. And suddenly, I had a lot more than three things to write about!

Although I no longer keep the 5 Minute Journal, the ability to appreciate my surroundings has stayed with me. In a way, I feel like the exercise helped me build a positive, mental foundation. And if I ever have a bad day, I get energy from scrolling through and remembering the entries in the app.

In freedom we soar

About six months after the experience described above, I was reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage“. Among many great exercises to increase happiness, the book also confirms how it is possible to train your brain, to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth, and seizing opportunities to act on them.

However, what is even more exciting, is that the gratitude exercise I performed has been found to have staying power. Shawn Achor continues to describe how a study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for only a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month and six-month follow-ups. Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier and showed higher levels of optimism.

Although this finding sadly made my experience less unique than I had flattered myself thinking, it hopefully inspires you to try the gratitude exercise yourself. I mean, if one week is really all its takes to create a more positive outlook on life, for the love of god, people, get that gratitude journal going! 😀