High school students are put under an immense amount of pressure nowadays. Teens are constantly stressed about their GPA, SAT, ACT, clubs, sports, and are constantly asking the question: Am I doing enough to get into a top college? This incessant pressure and stress has consequently lead to increasing statistics of teens suffering from mental illnesses. However, the question is how can we help these teens? How can we get them happy?
“More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression”– Wolters Kluwer Health,Science Daily
I am working with the Mental Health Matters (MHM) club in my school to answer this question, and work towards giving these students strategies to work on improving their mental health. Within my research, I was inspired by a quote from one of my now favorite Ted Talks, with speaker David Steindl-Rast talks about how all of us are united by once central desire “There’s something we know about everyone we meet anywhere in the world, on the street, that is the very mainspring of whatever they do and whatever they put up with. And that is that all of us want to be happy. In this, we are all together. ” The desire to be happy is what unites us all, but what does happiness really mean? In the Positive Psychology world, we find the word happiness to have lost it’s meaning. What we are concerned about is something called well-being, which can be measured by your relationships and feeling as if you have a greater sense of purpose.
The approach that is most recommended for helping those with mental illnesses ,to ‘get happy’, is positive psychotherapy. Positive psychotherapy has to do with well-being therapy, with exercises that work on building positive emotions, character strengths, finding meaning in life, and creating an optimistic mindset. The five pillars of well-being include:
These elements of well-being can be improved through gratefulness practices in particular. They can not only improve your mental health, but also prevent mental illnesses, and help people suffering from mental illnesses. Mental illnesses that plague so many teenagers today such as depression and anxiety, stem from a pessimistic mindset and disturbed sleep. Neuroscience research proves that practicing gratitude over time can rewire the brain to create a more positive outlook and improve your relationships, two of the key parts of well-being. So I want to teach the members of MHM different gratitude practices to tackle.
“In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize … Gratitude has the power to bring hope,”– Researcher Robert Emmons
- Select your journal with care: Pick a journal you love the look of, and it will make you more likely to stick to the routine
- Create a ritual: examples could be lighting a candle, drinking a cup of tea, or taking a bath.
- Express your gratitude: Spend a few minutes each night jotting down three to five highlights from your day. In the morning if you would like to start you day of with your journal you can read your entry from the night before.
- Celebrate quality: instead of focusing on how many items are on your list, think about the quality of gratitude you are giving to them. Writing one meaningful thing is better than trying to come up with 5 for the sake of it.
- Schedule a time to write, make it a routine!
- Find a calm, relaxing place where there will be no distractions.
- Focus on your breathing and don’t worry about the time.
- Then, reflect on both positive and negative emotions and events that pop up in your mind.
- Note: Do not force yourself to do these meditation sessions. Each session should be naturally structured.
Mental Removal of Blessings
- Imagine your life without common or ordinary things in your life: memorable events, relationships, items, and more.
- Reflect: Would your life be better without this? Worse? Different? Reflect on why that thing matters to you.
- Excellent way to combat “habituation,” our tendency to take things for granted.
- “Mentally remove a good thing or person from your life, and you’ll experience a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for them.
Through my preaching and promoting of well-being and gratitude practices, I recognize that it might be difficult to give these practices and theories a try. However, it should be recognized that working towards improving your own well-being and helping those around you is vital. This has been recognized by the UN as their third Sustainable Development Goal: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being at all ages. Furthermore, the promotion of well-being needs to become world-wide, but before we can get there it starts with people like you and I.
Around the world, and especially in China (where I live), there is still a large stigma around mental illness. Within Chinese culture in particular, most locals do not grant mental illnesses and psychology any truth. It is a common belief that mental health is standard and any symptoms someone (i.e. depression, anxiousness) has are by choice. Therefore, within my research and presentation I knew I wanted to highlight the neuroscience research and proven benefits of gratitude practice, in order to hopefully remove some of that stigma and disbelief. Hitting the points that gratitude practices have been proven to improve physical health: healthier heart, better sleep, live longer; improves relationships, life satisfaction, and GPA. As well as improves mental health: let you see past the anxiety, build confidence, helps you be more optimistic, alleviates stress. Overall, practicing gratitude will improve your well-being and help those with mental illnesses.
Read about how working on well-being has helped others: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.htmlhttps://medium.com/@lifesnewnormal/gratitude-with-mental-illness-5f87a8855043
Read more about gratitude: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_teach_gratitude_to_tweens_and_teens https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/gratitude.html https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-exercises/