Mind Your Mind: Starting the year with a gratitude list

When I was fourteen years old, I was a depressed teenager, and I couldn’t find anything to be grateful for. I remember how one day, I sat down with a piece of paper, and decided to make a list of everyone whom I thought was there for me at the time. I stared at the paper for a long time, then finally wrote down a single name: my best friend. For a long time, her name was the only one on my list.

As months went by, the list eventually grew, to my surprise. I kept it tucked away in a desk drawer, but every few months, I would unfold it, add a few names and fold it back again.

Today, there are 188 people on my Thankful List. Crazy, right?

So how did I decide who got to be on my list? For me, there was only one criteria. To be on my list, you had to have played a role, big or small, in my mental health journey towards recovery.

How does this relate to gratitude? The reason I love practicing gratitude is because it makes me feel good about myself and reminds me that I live a privileged life.

During my teenage years, I often adopted a victim mentality. But practicing gratitude changed my mindset. Instead of asking, “Why me?” I started to say, “Thank you.” When you’re overwhelmed or depressed, it’s really hard to notice the good things in your life.

Depression has a way of making you forget all the positive, and you end up with a lot of negativity. I have a personality prone to sadness, but I’ve found that over the years, saying thank you over and over again has helped lessen the pain.

This past Christmas, I undertook a meaningful project. I wrote a thank you card to almost every single person on my list. Here’s what I learned:

Stamps are freaking expensive.

Picking a thank you card is challenging. When I stood in front of the cards in the aisle, I noticed that cards could be classified in two different categories. On the one hand, half the cards had soft-coloured pastel backgrounds, with fancy cursive letters, or rhyming poetry. They looked like wedding or sympathy cards (not really the vibe I was going for). On the other hand, the rest of the cards had big bold letters, with bright yellow, blue or red backgrounds (not what I was going for either). I learned that picking a nice card is part of the process, and I enjoyed finding the “perfect card” for each person.

Whenever I receive a thank you card, it makes my day. To write a card, all it takes is a pen, a folded piece of paper, and at the most, 5 minutes of your time. Thank you cards, although simple and easy to write, have an impact. They are meaningful to both those who send and receive them.

I suffer from emotional loneliness, especially during the long winter months. But sending a card to every person on my thankful list was liberating, because it made me realize that I am surrounded by so many kind and caring individuals.

In order to personalize the cards, I didn’t just write a generic sentence in each card. Instead, I made sure to tell the person exactly what qualities I appreciated in them. I specifically recalled what they had done to support me, even quoting them word for word at times (not creepy or anything). This way, the message was even more special.

One thing I’d like to highlight is that the people on my list didn’t necessarily know about my struggles. My knitting instructor, my hairstylist, my favourite coffee shop owner, they had no idea how their words or actions impacted me. But they did. Every word that made me laugh, every smile, every small act of kindness counted. My knitting instructor made my Sunday mornings less lonely. My hairstylist made me feel good about myself for the first time in months. My favourite coffee shop owner gave me hugs and let me pet her dogs. One nurse from the hospital brought me extra blankets and apple juice containers. My arts advisor made sure I was taking the right courses so I didn’t have to worry about my degree.

Most importantly, this project brought me a lot of joy. It opened my eyes and made me realize that small acts of kindness and insignificant gestures can be so meaningful.

Imagine picking up your mail after a long day, and getting an unexpected envelope with a thoughtful message inside.

I’m certain that if you send thank you cards, you will make other people’s days, because cards are a simple way to express gratitude and connect with others around you.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.