Want to feel better? Practice gratitude.
This is easier said than done, I know. It's hard to imagine feeling at your absolute worst and also finding someway to be grateful...but, trust me, it works and there is plenty of research to prove it! Among one of the best known researchers on the effects of gratitude is Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center and Zellerbach Family Professor in the Penn Department of Psychology. Dr. Seligman is the founder of positive psychology which, unlike traditional psychology's goal of relieving human suffering, aims to actually improve the human condition. So what about gratitude? Well, as it turns out, practicing gratitude on a regular basis is one such way to improve the human condition. In his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman offers a simple practice called the "Gratitude Visit" that promises to enhance your well-being and lower your depression (to see the exercise click here). Another exercise from Dr. Seligman, and one that I often encourage my clients to try to implement in their lives on a regular basis, is the "What-Went-Well-Exercise." The first part of the exercise involves identifying what went well that day, a practice Dr. Seligman says most of us have difficulty doing:
"We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well."
Once you've identified something that's gone well (and even the tiniest of things counts!) the second part of the practice is, in my opinion, the most powerful. In the second part of the practice, you answer why that thing went well, which helps you see that you do, indeed, have agency in what happens to you and that you can make good things happen! This alone is a powerful antidote to depression.
These exercises seem simple, but they are rooted in decades of rigorous research and highlight some of modern psychology's most important findings. So, if you have 5 minutes to spare at the end of the night (and we ALL can find 5 minutes) try incorporating a gratitude practice into your routine and increase your well being!