These current times have been a true test of our emotional, mental and physical strength. Some people have experienced financial hardship, others have had difficulty with access to food, shelter, unemployment, and the pain of witnessing their loved ones undergo health concerns due to the pandemic. There is no doubt that people have shown resiliency through these difficult times.
But in order to recognize the resiliency, people must learn to change their perspective and focus on what has worked and what is good in the world instead of a constant focus on what is going wrong. With the amount of turmoil people have experienced this year, it may seem unfair to have to think about expressing gratitude and shifting the focus on the good. You may very well be in a position where there is hardly anything to be grateful for. However, the act of giving thanks for something (even one small thing) that has gone well in your life could have a positive impact on your perspective, the way you approach the world, and on your emotional health and wellbeing.
At Couch Conversations, our therapists believe that expressing gratitude is a fundamental part of healing and promoting change, especially in therapy. The practice of showing thanks allows people to shift their focus momentarily on a component of their lives that they are thankful for, and in turn, learning to approach the world by choosing to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. In doing this, people do not forget about the problems that they are having, but rather are able to make a decision on what to focus on and utilize gratitude as a way to promote healing in their lives.
A discussion on gratitude is a challenging concept to grasp during regular times; expressing thanks even when everything seems to be going wrong. This year, there have been even more obstacles in the way of recognizing that there are things people could be thankful for. However, for those who are willing to change their views and focus on even one good thing in their lives, they have the potential to see the difference that could make in their lives.
To gain a deeper understanding on the importance of expressing gratitude, it is first important to debunk a few myths about gratitude.
Myths about Gratitude:
1. Gratitude is Being Positive: Gratitude is not simply trying to be positive. If that were the case, people would not be motivated to problem solve or promote necessary changes in their lives for the things that are not going right. Gratitude is not synonymous with positivity; it is rather a choice to shift your focus on something positive instead of constantly revisiting the negative and let your mind turn to something good momentarily.
2. Gratitude Justifies Difficulty: Expressing gratitude does not take away from acknowledgement that difficulty exists. When people show gratitude or thanks, it does not mean that the challenges they have faced in life are now justified, forgotten or even forgiven. It is important to live in the reality of life being unjust and unfair, at times, but also recognizing that life's challenges do not automatically eliminate the good that exists as well.
3. Gratitude is Forgetting that Life is Hard: Most humans experience pain; it is a part of the human condition and living life. But experiencing suffering is often a choice and leads to more and more difficulty. People must recognize that life is hard and pain is a part of that difficulty. And choosing to focus on something good or positive does not take away from the difficulty of life.
What is Gratitude:
1. Expressing Gratitude is a Choice: When people express gratitude, they are making a conscious choice to focus on something that is going right in their lives. Gratitude is not something that typically happens naturally; it is an expression of thanks people give when they recognize the importance of it, and when they make a decision to do so.
2. Expressing Gratitude Provides Respite from your Problems: Think about the number of times per day that you focus on your problems, and how difficult it is to focus on anything else. Focusing on what is not going right often leads people down a rabbit hole of focusing on the negative and it is very hard to come out of that. When people make the choice to express gratitude, they are giving themselves a break from constant focus and attention on the negatives. This allows people to problem solve in a different way, take a step back to look at the bigger picture, and generally change their perspective on life's difficulties.
3. Expressing Gratitude is a Practice: As already mentioned, gratitude is a choice, but it is also a practice that could help people change their mindset. When people practice the expression of gratitude regularly, they are rewiring their brain to bring its focus and attention to an acknowledgement of what they are thankful for, instead of what they are not thankful for in their lives.
What Can I Do to Express Gratitude?
Expressing gratitude is a way for people to focus on something that is good in their lives. It is a choice people make and a practice they could incorporate into their lives to more effectively deal with life's difficulties and learn to problem solve in a different, and more effective way. Choice and practice both require routines and developing adaptive habits. Expressing gratitude is something that could be done on a daily or weekly basis. It is about picking a time of day where you can either write down or say to yourself one thing that you are grateful for that day.
Providing thanks could be something as simple as expressing gratitude for good weather, or giving thanks for having quiet neighbors, or gratitude for your pets, or for the peace you experience in the mornings before starting your day. If you have bigger things you’re grateful for, you can absolutely express thanks for those as well. Expressing thanks can also happen on more than one thing if you have more things that you are grateful for in your life. You can additionally choose to express thanks privately on paper or mentally, or you can also express gratitude to the people around you.
Interested in learning more about expressing gratitude through therapy? Feel free to contact one of our Couch Conversations Psychotherapy and Counseling, Inc. psychotherapists to learn about how expressing gratitude through the journey of therapy could be beneficial in overcoming some of life's difficulties. Please feel free to complete the contact form below and one of our therapists will reach out shortly.