Gratitude Challenge, Epilogue

So, here we are, the end of the gratitude challenge. Well, technically, that was yesterday, but I majored in English, so I can afford to fudge things a bit. For those of you who aren’t familiar (though you should be, since I’ve been doing this for the last three weeks), here is the TED Talk by Shawn Achor, from whom the idea for the gratitude challenge derives:

The idea is that, by following the relatively simple structure of the gratitude challenge for three weeks, you will end up with a more positive outlook on life. You see, you have to train your brain tho think more positively; the brain, like any other muscle, won’t do anything unless you work it out. For a lot of us – and by us, I am referring specifically to those of us with mental illnesses, though I imagine there are a fair amount of other people who could benefit – we tend to think about the world very negatively. When I was at Menninger, I went through several tests by a psychiatrist, and at the end, when he told me the results, I wasn’t sure I could be any less surprised. You see, he told me that I have a very pessimistic worldview, even though I have some rather unrealistic hopes about a better world. Aside from a very few people, I assume that most others are up to no good, and will take any opportunity they can to hurt, annoy, or otherwise inconvenience me.

That is, or was, essentially true. I found it was generally easier to just assume that almost everyone was out to do me wrong, because it saved time when it did happen. I trust few people, and I am very suspicious; I feel like I constantly have to watch for trouble when out in public. The gratitude challenge was, in part, meant to try and change that. Finding new things to be grateful for each day, and making a list of people to be grateful to and why, and trying to keep my body and mind in shape were all meant to help me to be more positive.

I think it has worked. Not by great leaps and bounds; three weeks isn’t enough to change decades of habit, after all. And I am by no means the best judge of my behavior; while I feel like I have been more positive, and generally happier, and easier to be around for at least the last week or so, it isn’t based on any specific observations. It’s just a feeling I have. I don’t think I have been as suspicious or hostile towards other people, especially strangers; I think the gratitude challenge has something to do with that, along with a little help from a few SuperBetter quests. You could probably ask people who know me, though, and see what they think; maybe a few of them will be kind enough to comment here on that topic, should they feel so inclined.

So, what was each part of this challenge supposed to do? I set out the parts of the challenge, but never mentioned why. I’ll go over that now.

1. The three things a day to be grateful for? Research shows this will significantly improve your optimism even six months later, and raises your success rates significantly.

2. Journaling about a positive experience in the last day? This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos.

3. Exercising for ten (or more) minutes per day? This trains your brain to believe your behavior matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.

4. Meditating (or doing breathing exercises) for two minutes per day? This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases stress and raises happiness.

5. Writing a message of gratitude for one person each day? This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in Mr. Achor’s study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.

These explanations were acquired from Shawn Achor’s article for the Huffington Post, 5 Ways to Turn Happiness Into An Advantage.

Now that I have taken the challenge, and completed it, and I think it has helped me out, I hope more people will think about doing so. It’s been a good way to spend the last three weeks blogging here, and I look forward to the challenges ahead of me with a (cautiously) optimistic view.


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