Posted by: | 9th Dec, 2013


by Vanessa de Waal

In the game of school, negativity is not Noble.

I want you to just take a minute and assess whether the creases at the edges at the end of your mouth are pointed upward or downward. How does your forehead feel? Is your forehead wrinkles due to your creased eyebrow muscles?

Often, we can’t accurately answer the all to common passerby question of “how are you?”.

I’m hear to tell you that if the genuine answer is not something along the lines of fantastic, something is wrong. And it needs to be addressed immediately.

Of course, it is both acceptable and expected that exams at this beautiful university are hard and you should feel suboptimal at best during them. But what you may not know is that you are forgoing a key evolutionary advantage by being happy with being unhappy. Let’s talk a bit about emotional contagion and positive affectivity. By smiling at someone, you put help them attain a positive state of mind. The way this works is typically, is they will smile back at you and that reciprocity also helps you feel positive. Talk about two-fold. Now where it gets interesting beyond the news headlines and literature on how ‘just smiling makes you feel better’ is the advantage that positive emotion gives your brain in training for our beloved December memory olympics.

Positive affective states influence memory. Yes, memory folks. Positive emotions during memory retention/learning are shown to increase detailed recall as well as clarity. And for all our clever paper writing or problem-solving students, positive affective states bolster creativity too.

So other than reminding yourself to smile every time you catch yourself in the mirror, how do make ourselves feel positive? The very first step I have for you is:


*note- I used the term ‘cue gratitude’ in lieu of ‘be grateful’ because you already are grateful, you just need to bring that to the forefront of your attention.

I was the quiet girl in high school. The one more likely to be heard on the morning prayer announcements than at all in class. I had friends, was relatively involved, and adored learning, but I was ever so careful with my words. It was as if they were some sort of precious currency that were only to be used when absolutely necessary. Life was quieter. Nonetheless, I was pretty much always happy during that time.

Fast forward half a decade and I am an advisor here at UBC and life is ever-exciting. This university experience is one that I vision-boarded about and dreamed of. I get to frequent whistler and now with my sister, I have made some amazing friends, endured some of the best memories, I encounter many inspiring as well as uplifting conversations, have a dream job for my age where I get to meet lots of people and host creative events, I get to learn from excellent professors, have a ton of freedom, and have picked up a number of vancouveresque hobbies like running, coffee, sailing, yoga and the list continues. I have a passion for being inspired and those kinds of opportunities are always knocking on my door here at UBC. Although I caught myself stressed earlier in 2013 and feeling mediocre; for the longest time I tried to piece together what I had been missing from that Catholic high school experience. And I felt right back to myself again as soon as it hit me-it was those few moments every here and there of reflection and gratitude that accompany prayer. I realized that though I was good at maintaing gratitude for other people, I had forgot to make time to be grateful for my life itself.

Figuring this out made me revisit my gratitude journal and recenter my definition of myself.

Being grateful feels great. There is nothing noble or intelligent about being negative. And better to smile spontaneously authentically than have to keep reminding yourself to smile (we have too many other things to keep track of anyway).

But to take this a step further, we can be grateful for our exams. We can be grateful for whatever card was dealt to us that had us end up here, learning in lieu of working. Having time to fill our brains. Learning to be grateful for our learning may be the key step from changing your mind-frame to studying as a chore or as a privilege. Seeing exams as an opportunity to both accumulate and demonstrate knowledge is the first-line strategy.

Other things to help you feel great and take advantage of a better memory would include- calling someone who you love talking to, hitting the treadmill (even if you have to bring your textbook along with you), getting out in nature, laughing, eating your MUFAs, taking vitamin D & napping.

And so in keeping with the spirit of gratitude, thank you for reading this. It was a genuine pleasure to spend my morning with a cup of coffee and a blank page.

May you always make lemonade.

Best of luck,


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