By Miriam Webster definition, gratitude is “the state of being grateful.” Recently there has been a push in the field of psychology to focus on the positive, to discontinue with so much emphasis toward disorders, problems, issues, concerns, and the like. I for one, have gratitude for this paradigm shift. Since going to graduate school, it has always bothered me to focus on the difficulties people are having. I prefer to focus on someone’s strengths. There have been times when I have worked with a client and we were brainstorming their strengths together, (because I like to do that immediately), and the only one we could come up with was the person was still alive. That is good enough for me. I will take it….and run with it. The strength in that, in my opinion, is that the person I am working with has not given up. There is room for gratitude there, for that client, at that moment, where they cannot come up with one other thing to be grateful for, they can be grateful for their strength to go on.
Recent research has found that people that have increased gratitude have decreased depression, isolation, dissatisfaction and conflict. To me, that translates as increased health and wellness, which is precisely why I am discussing the necessity of feeling grateful. I will excitedly jump on any train that proposes that people can get healthier just by cognitively focusing on the gifts that have been given already or the gifts that will come eventually. Most healthy changes take money and time. Gratitude just takes effortful and intentional thought.
The difficulty of course comes when there are few gifts that have been given and few gifts that will come. I work with a lot of people that have been given zero gifts in their lives; children that were left behind with nothing and harmed for years, adults who were never wanted. That is when gratitude gets really difficult. Same challenge goes for when people who have a great deal experience tragedy or for a person that has some blessings but then loses everything. In all of these situations, we must get creative. We must buckle down, get grounded and start being abstract, outside the box, CREATIVE. We must turn over every rock, look in every nook and cranny and become detectives, rooting out blessings that are so small, seem so trivial, and yet; they will be the winning ticket to our shift in cognition. And that!, is all we need….a shift to the grateful side of the spectrum. In our moments of challenge we must claw and kick to get away from thanklessness, lack of appreciation and apathy. Whatever we started out with, whatever our life situation has come down to, when we are suffering we must find ways to be grateful.
When we are fighting for gratitude, our first step is to determine whether we want to focus on the gifts we have been given or the ones that are coming our way in the future. Are you a person that had resources and lost them, or are you a person that never had them and can only imagine the gifts in your future? Gratitude starts with appreciation and thanks. When you are struggling, push yourself to start and finish the sentence several times per day, “I am grateful for……” If you are focusing your gratitude on your future, “I am grateful for the opportunity to have in my future……” Try these sentences on for size as well, “I feel blessed to have….. in my life.” “I am thankful that this pain I am in will go away someday as long as I keep living through it.” “I am grateful for the knowledge that I am trying my best.” “I appreciate the lessons I have learned through this hardship, especially about my strength to keep going.”
I know I am putting a difficult charge in front of you. Thinking back to when my father died during my teenage years, it was extremely challenging to locate any gratitude in the experience. Every thread of my being ached, all I wanted to do was focus on the unfairness and thanklessness of the situation. Each and every loss I have had since then have been the same. Bereft, I have initially thought it would be simpler to focus on the costs of loss, rather the benefits. It takes time and effort to understand the gifts in loss and struggle. It took me 10 years to be grateful for the lessons I learned from the loss of my father. But at this point, every day I have gratitude for his love and lessons and for the experience of losing him far too soon, as it taught me about my ability to survive heart break. Gratitude is preventative with regard to sadness, frustration and low self-esteem. Furthermore, gratitude helps us reframe challenging situations so that we can learn positive lessons from them. In these ways, remaining grateful keeps us happier, so with that said, go forth and be grateful for the sake of your health and wellness.