When depression chopped me in the back of the knee and sent me sprawling on the floor – well actually the couch – for a full year, I had to learn some brilliant ninja moves.
I learned moves that got me back on my feet and moves that keep sneaky saboteurs from whacking me so often.
Easily, the most powerful of these moves is gratitude… in fact it worked so well for me that I was wondering if I’d now actually lost my marbles and that this period of sweet relief was really my final refusal to face the world. Could people create imaginary benefits and have a sort of positive emotional breakdown?
It turned out that I wasn’t having a breakdown, I had simply started changing the way my brain processes the world.
Fact: Gratitude changes the way your brain processes the world.
Now before you start thinking I’m some sort of Pollyanna type, let me lay it out for you. I’m more naturally your perfectionist, over-achiever, opinionated sort who has a very finely honed talent for finding something wrong in pretty much any situation. I can be judgmental, impatient and negative. I’ve rarely been accused of being ‘nice’ and gratitude doesn’t come naturally to me.
My life has been turned upside down by gratitude.
What I came to understand, and what has been so utterly life-changing, is that gratitude has nothing to do with feelings. It isn’t an emotional response to something great happening. If I waited until I felt good about something before practicing gratitude I’d be waiting a very long time.
Gratitude is a mental discipline, a daily, hourly, minutely (literally!) decision to take a second look, shut my inner victim up, find the gift, avoid self-pity, take a broader view and more.
What is magical about gratitude is that it can be understood and applied by everyone very simply.
Here’s three quick big ninja practices for kids of all ages:
1. On waking find one thing to look forward to. This starts training the brain to scan for good things.
2. When in the midst of the thing that you looked forward to, take a few moments to pay attention to the good things around you and say an inner ‘thank you’. Neurotransmitters only fire when attention is paid to what is at hand. Merely being somewhere fun or doing something enjoyable won’t necessarily give you good feelings.
3. Write a ‘thank you’ each day – via note, email, or text. The more detailed this note is, the more thought you’ve put into it, the more effective it is for change. This helps you take stock of the good things happening to you – whether in the present or the past. This mental-movie rerun releases the feel-good chemicals and focuses attention away from you to something else, one of the proven ways to reduce depression.
Regular gratitude practice brings not puppies, sunshine and prancing Pollyannas, but something akin to steel reinforcing bars that run through a young person’s life – making them strong, resilient, happier and better equipped to face the future.
– Toni Powell