Whether afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder, augmented depression, or simply a gloomy feeling, many people find the grey winter months nearly unbearable. Work stress, relationship troubles, loneliness, and what, during brighter days, might seem like life as usual all can compound this feeling. While nothing can take the place of proper psychological and psychiatric treatment for bona fide mental illness, one simple concept can make a world of difference when feeling down in the dumps: Gratitude.
It can be tough to find the good things in life. This goes double when feeling stressed and depressed. Many experts recommend keeping a gratitude journal to remind ourselves of the things we are (or should be) grateful for. As we practice being grateful, a habit will eventually form, and eventually we will have an attitude of gratitude.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, having an attitude of gratitude has physical, psychological, and social benefits. The act of being grateful strengthens the immune system, gives us a more positive outlook on the life and the world, and alleviates loneliness. Expressing gratitude to others also makes them feel appreciated, which will cause them to appreciate us even more, and that causes us to feel appreciated. It's a virtuous cycle.
How does this attitude of gratitude affect us at work? Besides giving us better relationships with coworkers, having an attitude of gratitude will help us feel less stressed and overburdened by tasks. Often work stress is compounded by (or compounds) general life stress. We get a new project on top of the three we're already working on. Lay-offs in the department mean our workload has all of a sudden doubled. The voice mail doesn't stop. We forget our password and have to wait on hold so IT can change it. (Or we work in IT and have to field calls from angry people who have had to wait on hold due to our non-stop password resets.) It can be tough to stop and consider the little things that make going to work worthwhile. We have a paycheck, such as it is. We weren't included in the layoffs (survivor's guilt not withstanding). We have an IT department to call and not a call center overseas. We have made several people's lives better today by granting them access to their computers. It's 4:30, and in 30 minutes we'll be able to leave this behind for a few hours and be with the people we love, or lie on the couch and watch TV, or have a drink with coworkers to vent about how stressful life and work are. All of these simple gifts are opportunities to be grateful.
Try keeping track of how often you are grateful and how often you have an opportunity to be. The simple lesson was best expressed by the Monty Python folks: Always look on the bright side of life.