The fastest way to achieve happiness is gratitude and this is something I realised last year (2016) once I had moved out. Those of you who have lived by themselves will know that the first few weeks are tough. Homesickness strikes you at the most random times and I found myself occasionally sobbing over dirty dishes at 11pm while trying not to think of the pile of work on my desk.
For someone who struggles with change, I did find 1st semester challenging. It wasn't just dishes, cooking and studying that was making me unhappy. It was the environment. I had moved out of a naturey suburb and into a city with no trees. I actually used to be an inside type of person, but once I moved to Joburg, I realised pretty quickly how vital nature is for your well-being.
I felt like I had walked into a depressed environment and because I'm an empath I was absorbing the lifeless energy around me. I often found myself crying even though nothing was remotely sad, and I was confused and angry about my unpredictable emotions.
Once I realised that I couldn't just continue to live like this, I made some changes, one being incorporating gratitude into my life.
Gratitude is noticing what you have and appreciating it. As humans, we often think about all the things we want. I want that car. I want to travel to Egypt. I want to earn money. When I am fitter I will be happier. When I find my dream man I will feel content.
I don't think it's unhealthy to dream and visualise. I do think it becomes an issue though when people focus more on what they don't have than what they do. If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we will be happy with more?
Yes, you may feel temporarily happy when you get the car, but if you are not grateful for what you have, it's not going to last. A few weeks later you'll just want something else and your happiness will disappear.
My mom and I had started a gratitude jar at the beginning of the year as a way to bring positivity in our lives. A gratitude jar is a jar that you put in your house and then members of the family write things that they're grateful for on small pieces of paper and put it in the jar throughout the year. Then at the end of the year, you all sit down and read the folded pieces of paper. The next year, you buy a new jar and start over.
I was excited when we bought the jar, but it only really started to have actual significance after a few weeks of varsity. When I was going through a tough time, I hit a stage where tiny things that I had previously overlooked started to look better than before. I became a lot more appreciative of my friends and family. Somebody smiling at me could really make my day.
Since I was only able to access the gratitude jar when I went home on the weekend, I downloaded a gratitude app on my phone. I used it for about a month and then I converted to just listing what I was grateful for in my head. When I was walking around campus alone, I would think about things that I was grateful for. This would really improve my mood and it actually became hard to see things in a negative light.
For some, it may be difficult to find things to be grateful for. If you're having a terrible day, it's easy to only see negatives. I urge you to try though. Even if you can only think of one good thing in your life, that's a start. If you really think about that one thing - picture it, hear it, feel it - you will feel happier.
With gratitude you can also turn a bad situation into a good one as long as you keep a positive attitude. I remember writing in the gratitude jar last year that I was grateful for meeting this one woman who treated me as if I was insignificant because it made me realise that I need to hang out with people who treat me as if I have worth. Sometimes it's necessary to go through uncomfortable or difficult times because I think you can learn a lot about yourself. You can grow.
The root of happiness is gratitude. When you are grateful, you shine from the inside and this energy is contagious. It's never too late to change your lifestyle. Start your gratitude jar today.