By Greg Skibinski, MA, LCPC, CADC, CSAT, CMAT, Executive Director
Wow! With all the latest news and uncertainty that exists in our ever-changing world, from economic downshifts, company reorganizations, unemployment rates, changes in the weather patterns, natural disasters, and questions about who will be our next president, it’s easy for us to “Get Stuck In the Yuck!” Social scientist Brene’ Brown writes:
We can spend our entire lives in scarcity…just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and wondering when it will all fall apart. Or, we can lean into uncertainty, and be thankful for what we have in that precious moment. When I’m standing at the crossroads of fear and gratitude, I’ve learned that I must choose vulnerability, and practice gratitude if I want to know joy. I’m not sure that it will ever be easy for me, but I have learned to trust this practice. For that, I give thanks!
We need to realize that we do have a choice. You can fill your head with ideas of uncertainty and allow your thoughts to lead you down a negative path into the unknown, or you can practice gratitude.
Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has, as opposed to complaining about all the things you don’t have, or have absolutely no control over.
Gratitude is something you can learn to cultivate. Learning to express gratefulness can increase your well-being and your level of happiness. This isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding, and help you escape the “yuck” by focusing on the positive.
It has been proven that focusing on what you are truly grateful for, especially when it is expressed to others, can:
- increase your energy
- increase your level of optimism
- increase empathy
- make you feel more alive
- help you express more compassion and kindness
- improve your immune system
- help you sleep better
Another of the key benefits of gratitude is that it helps people feel more connected to one other. All of us have experienced relationship benefits when gratitude is expressed, and the erosion of social connections when gratitude has been delayed or forgotten.
Our relationships with others can be the greatest determinant of our happiness, so it makes perfect sense to think of other people as we build our gratitude. Robert Emmons, UC Davis psychologist and author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, suggests that focusing our gratitude on people for whom we are thankful, rather than circumstances or material items, will enhance the benefits we experience.
Gratitude can be motivating. Getting excited about the benefits of gratitude can be advantageous because it may give us the kick we need to start making changes.
The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. I challenge my clients with this little exercise: at the end of the day, write down three things you are grateful for, and continue to do it every day for three weeks. But, there is a catch: You can’t repeat anything on paper. This encourages you to focus on three new things each day.
Opening your eyes to the world around you can deeply enhance your practice of gratitude. Research by Emmons shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal in which you regularly write brief reflections on moments for which you’re thankful can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.
So, here are a few possible challenges just for you: sit down and write a letter of gratitude to someone who had an impact on you, or whom you’ve never properly thanked. Share the day’s grateful moments at the dinner table, or possibly at Thanksgiving. This year would be a great time to start a new tradition by asking those around you to share one thing they are grateful for. The conversation that follows may give you even more reasons to give thanks.
For more information, please contact Agape Counseling, 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process that ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway, (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit: www.agapecounselors.net.
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