I was watching two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster on a talk show where she said, “The idea of youth is how you look at the world, with hopeful optimism and trying new things.” This was in relation to how the actress convincingly pulls off her role in hit TV series Younger where she plays a 40-something divorced mother passing herself off as a 26-year-old millennial in order to land a job.
The idea of hopeful optimism and being appreciative of the small, simple things in life is gaining traction in psychological care. The evidence supports this: Many studies have demonstrated how expressing gratitude helps alleviate mental health difficulties and chronic occupational stress (source: American Psychiatric Association). In fact, positive effects can be felt just after four weeks of gratitude-based writing activity.
Gratitude is greatly aligned with mindfulness, a practice that is increasingly being recognised as a form of exercise for our mind.
Saying thank you for the present (in every sense of the word) keeps us focused on the here and now, rather than us getting lost in past regrets or overwhelmed with future, unrealised wants.
A book I recommend to some of my therapy clients relevant to this topic is Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage,” an immensely easy and enjoyable read. For those of you who might find getting through a book challenging, here are three simple activities (adapted from Achor’s interview with CBC News) that we can incorporate into our every day to take care of our mental health.
- Gratitude activity: Every day, jot down one thing that you are grateful for that occurred over the last 24 hours. It does not have to be a profound or special event. This is where the notion of hopeful optimism is relevant. We may forget to be grateful for the littlest of things, while children, with their wide-eyed curiosity and playfulness, are appreciative even of a plain sheet of paper to doodle on or shred into bits.
Try looking at mundane, commonplace occurrences with a new lens. Living in Seoul, something to be grateful for could be as simple as an afternoon with clean air and no smog.
- Meditation: Every day, take a few minutes to stop whatever you are doing and concentrate on mindful breathing or mindful listening. This is simple; it merely involves shifting your attention from whatever it was that you were doing to your breath (for mindful breathing) or the sounds around you (for mindful listening).
Even a short mindful break can result in a calmer, happier you. This one is easy to do any time throughout the day, whenever the thought pops into your mind. You can also plan to do it whenever your notification sound goes off (that message can surely wait for a minute!) or in line when grabbing a coffee break.
- Conscious act of kindness: Every day, send someone a short message of kind words, perhaps concern, praise, or thanks. Our brains become addicted to feeling good by making others feel good.
According to Achor, these exercises can greatly transform your thinking in as short as three weeks. Give these three activities a go and before you know it, these simple actions would have become interwoven into a habitual self-care routine.
If you happen to be in Seoul and are wanting more information on mental health or counseling, do check out Couchology’s mental health events.