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Perspective: The power of gratitude

Hannah Olinger

While the calendar indicates December is the last month of the year, I tend to think that May has that honor due to the many years I’ve spent in academia – from being in the classroom to on the payroll. So now is when I begin to look back over the past year and reflect on accomplishments, shortcomings, and hopes for the year ahead. For many of us, just managing to balance our lives against the pandemic and its collateral damage has been a “big win.” It’s important that we take time to recognize those “wins” in life and maybe take a moment to express our gratitude to the folks who helped us make it through as well as we did.

It turns out that when we focus on the positive things from the past, we are setting ourselves up for a happier and healthier state. Worrying about what went wrong – especially after everything is said and done and there are no do-overs – can wreak havoc on our emotional and physical wellbeing. Worrying about the future, rather than planning for the future, is just as bad.

However, before you decide that gratitude is only for those new age hippie types, let me share that a recent study with U.S. veterans supported the benefits of acknowledging gratitude. They found that having a grateful mindset protected against depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even suicide.

If you take time to train your brain to skip past the memories that only bring stress and hit pause at the memories that bring satisfaction and feelings of gratitude, you’re increasing the odds for a longer and happier life.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education