We Live in a Stressful, Harsh World: Here's How to Feel More Joy

POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

When I was in high school and feeling overwhelmed or down, I'd force myself to make a list of things I was grateful for. If bad feelings progressed, I'd continue to write this list every night before bed. I'd just get out my little journal or a piece of paper and write down every single thing in my life that brought me joy.

I set out to reshift my focus; I had the opportunity to be bogged down in suffering and sadness or to refocus on the beautiful, wonderful gifts my life had to offer me. Little did I know that this simple practice I began implementing as a teenager is actually rooted in science. Yes, there's a neuroscience of gratitude!

As Psychology Today reported, "Gratitude, particularly if practiced regularly, can keep you healthier and happier." It also analyzed a Chinese study from 2012 that showed "higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression."

Today, I still keep a gratitude journal; a study published in Clinical Psychology Review noted that "gratitude diaries are an effective technique that can be useful for clinical practice." Said study also reinforced the conclusion that gratitude is an effective way to treat depression and anxiety and improve sleep.

I've also added the concept of practicing gratitude into my daily meditation practice. I take 10 minutes out of my day to recenter myself and focus on the present moment; I recount a few things in my life that I'm particularly grateful for each day.

Now more than ever, this practice is so important. When it seems like there's more violence on the news, nonstop shootings, ceaseless terrorism — we must shift our focus back to the positive, to the millions of joyful, beautiful things we have in this world and in our lives. Also, it's been shown that gratitude does, in fact, reduce violence. So that helps, too!

It can be as simple as "I'm healthy. I'm alive. I have both my legs! I've got people who love me. There's a roof over my head. I can read. I can see." There are so many incredible things we take for granted every day; good things become the "normal," and that makes bad things feel worse. Remember that our "normal" is actually very, very good! And if we shifted our focus just a little, we'd realize just how good we have it.

It's easy to focus our attention on the horrible things happening around the world — and I am by no means marginalizing the gravity of these events. They're awful, and there's no way around that. But painting the world with a broad brush and saying we live in a terrible time will not serve you in any way.

Find strength and joy in gratitude. Choose to be grateful. We're stronger when we're armed with that power, and let's be honest, the world could use a little more happiness.