Achieving an Attitude of Gratitude

Mary has a lot of challenges in her life. Her greatest challenge—and her greatest joy—is her daughter, Susan. Born with cerebral palsy, Susan requires 24-hour care as she is immobile and non-verbal. Each day Mary rises early before work, so she can toilet, dress, feed, and prepare her daughter for school. School is expensive, but the care her daughter gets there is worth it. Afternoons are filled with doctor appointments and providing care for her daughter.

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Although married, her husband works nights, so Mary is the primary caregiver. This is how Mary and I meet. I am a psychotherapist in private practice. Mary has sought out therapy with me to help her cope with these challenges. Mary often reports feeling depressed, anxious, and alone.  Her hopeless thoughts about her life situation contribute to her depressed mood. In my office, Mary talks about her struggles, and her mood will dip as she shares all the hard things she experiences, how tired and lonely she is, and how trapped she feels. As she talks, she becomes tearful, her body bends inward, and you can visually imagine her spiraling down into this bleak and dark hole. Focusing on all that is bad or wrong can certainly do that. Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman is the leading researcher in the field of positive psychology. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. This is where the practice of gratitude comes in. Studied by Seligman and others, there is growing evidence that gratitude can help people feel greater happiness, appreciate what they have, create resilience despite life’s curveballs, and even improve health.

HOW GRATITUDE HELPS 

Gratitude is a practice that enables us to identify our own strengths and what has contributed to that, which is empowering. It helps us see the glass as half full instead of half empty, and that creates hope and optimism for the future. In addition, gratitude helps us appreciate the positives in our lives—the people, things, and events that bring us joy. Reflecting on that works to alleviate loneliness and allows us to feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Lastly, expressing gratitude to others improves our relationships both personally, and in the workplace. Remember Mary? We left off witnessing her spiraling down into the depths of despair as she recounts all that is difficult in her life. With practice and prompting, Mary is now able to stop the downward spiral and shift her attention to the multitude of people, things, and events for which she is grateful. This allows Mary to step out of the toxic cesspool where her thoughts have taken her and into the light. Of course, it is not a miracle cure for depression and anxiety, but introducing the practice of gratitude has been a useful tool in improving the quality of her life.We are fast approaching the end of the year. Traditionally, this is a time for giving and reflection on what has passed and what is to come. It is a perfect time to begin a practice of gratitude—a gift to yourself and to those around you.

5 Ways to Bring Gratitude Into Your Life

Bonus: Cultivating the practice with regularity will only increase the benefit

1. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

Create a journal or a list, daily or weekly, of five things you are grateful for. The list can contain both big and small things. Dig deep!

 

2. “THINK THREE”

This exercise is similar to counting your blessings, but instead of just listing the things you are grateful for, journal about three of them and add the reasons for your appreciation.

 

3. PRAY OR MEDITATE

Reflect through some quiet time set aside for meditation or prayer.

4. WRITE GRATITUDE LETTERS OR MAKE VISITS.

Writing thank-you notes or visiting in person to share your gratitude is good for you and others!

5. OPT FOR EXPERIMENTAL CONSUMPTION

Instead of buying a material gift, purchase or create an experience to be shared. This will provide you and others with a chance to build additional opportunities for gratitude.

By: Geraldine “Gerry” Viggiani

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