As Thanksgiving approaches, I am seeing messages of thanks and gratitude pop up everywhere. I appreciate these messages but must admit sometimes I feel like our society (myself included) “goes through the motions” this time of year. Given the pandemic and the current surge in cases, I am struggling with the worry that a focus on gratitude might feel like an attempt to put a silver lining on immensely challenging situations. I then get worried because it is well established that forced positivity and sympathy can drive disconnection. So, this year in particular, I have been thinking about how I can cultivate genuine gratitude through intentional practice and avoid what Brené Brown calls “silverlining it.” Here is a great video about the difference between empathy and sympathy and the challenges a response of sympathy to others’ struggles can create.
So why is a focus on gratitude beneficial? Research suggests that gratitude practices can help in a myriad of ways: building our resilience, impacting our experience of anxiety and depression, and improving our stress management to name a few. This blog identifies some key benefits .
Stuck on where to begin with a gratitude practice?
Consider if some of these actions might be a helpful starting place.
- Notice the times throughout your day where you find yourself saying thank you. Can you step away from the moment being a routine or mindless one and instead bring mindful awareness to this moment to connect with the impact this expression of gratitude has on you?
- Like meditation? Consider if a practice devoted to gratitude would be helpful. Here is a recording of an exercise you might try.
- Spend a few minutes at the end of your day reflecting on a few things you are grateful for. There is no magic number of things to identify. Even just one reflection can be impactful and is a place to start.
- Consider if widening your range of things to be grateful for creates a different perspective. I know I can get caught up on focusing on what went well in my day as a place to look for gratitude. While there is nothing wrong with that, it does cause me to miss other reflections though like noticing gratitude for the sun and the way it warms me up when I am chilly.
- Having a difficult time finding gratitude given how intense things are? You are not alone! It can be challenging to shift our focus when we have high levels of stress. Sometimes prompts or questions can help us.
The American Heart Association offers a few prompts that can be remembered with the word HEART:
- H – Health: What did your body do for you today?
- E – Eat: What did you feed your body to nourish yourself today?
- A – Activity: What did you do that you really enjoyed today?
- R – Relationship: Whom do you look forward to connecting with?
- T – Time: What are you doing right now?
Lastly, we encourage you to have grace and compassion for yourself. Gratitude practices are just that – PRACTICE! It takes time to settle into a space of gratitude, and we need to give ourselves space and compassion if gratitude is not a space we can find and hold right now.
In closing, thank you! With intentionality, I say thank you for taking the time to read this piece and for being a support for all the people in your life!
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