It’s been almost a full year since we’ve written and reflected on how gratitude can lead to happiness and better health. Now we’ve reached the tail end of 2019 and it seems like an apt time to take stock of the year and what the practice of gratitude has taught us.
What will always be true?
What’s true is that practising gratitude is at its most challenging when we are deep in the dark forest. Trying to be grateful while dealing with extremely challenging situations such as death, depression, a broken relationship, or lack of self-love almost feels impossible, yet, it is not.
Being genuinely grateful was not meant to always be easy. The challenge lies in being grateful while in the midst of challenging circumstances.
Gratitude Encourages Us to Remember the Bad
We do what we can to avoid reliving the memory of a negative experience. However, being grateful urges us to stir into the skid. Trials and suffering can cultivate and deepen gratefulness if we allow negative emotions to show us not to take the good things for granted.
During uncertainty, we realise how powerless we are in when it comes to things we cannot change. If we begin to understand that everything we have and everyone we hold dear may be taken away, it becomes easier to also be grateful for the smallest things in life.
Scientific studies have even implied that gratitude during a crisis increases our ability to cope. Consciously fostering an attitude of gratitude builds up the psychological immune system that can protect us in times of hardship.
Gratitude encourages us to look back at the bad things to see the contrast. Seeing the stark difference between the times we struggled in comparison to where we are at the moment helps us become grateful because here we are, able to remember that we made it through the worst times of your life. We grew, we evolved.
Gratitude Among People with Poor Mental Health
High-functioning people generally practice gratitude with minimal struggle. But what about those with mental health concerns? Emotional and psychological instability poses a different challenge to being grateful.
Research published in 2016 studied the success of regular gratitude practice involving people with varying degrees of depression and anxiety were observed.
Dr Joel Wong and his associates researched 300 university students who have reported low levels of mental health. The participants were randomly assigned into three groups. All groups received counselling services. The 1st group was instructed to write a letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks. The 2nd group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The 3rd group did not do any writing activity.1
The findings: The group who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended compared with the other two groups. This suggests that gratitude-writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals but also for those who struggle with mental health.2
Such research is an indicator of the power of gratitude regardless of our mental state. The study also implies that we can manage how we reach to external events – especially those that test our resilience.
The term “coping gratefully” was suggested by Dr Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California and author of Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier
As we approach another year
2020 will soon greet us with more experiences – both good and bad. How can we continue to cultivate gratitude moving forward?
Write it in a letter.
We can be happier and can nurture our relationship with others by writing a gratitude letter. How has this person changed and impacted our life for the better? You have the choice of sending it or reading the message to them. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. More importantly, write one to yourself.
Continue journaling or start one.
Our mind can process and remember when we write something down. Pouring out our thoughts and examining their quality helps us discern what we’re struggling with and what we’ve been able to overcome. It helps to be specific about our feelings, especially when it’s positive. That way, we can go back and count these as blessings.
Meditate and stay present.
Focus on the now and appreciate the gaps of stillness in between. Meditation helps us sort through the clutter in our mind so we can attend to what we can change. Therefore, we set clearer intentions and goals for the next day. In meditation, we fine-tune our compassion and sensitivity, thereby creating stronger connections with people and our surroundings.
Don’t force it.
There should be meaning to things we are grateful for – not just for the sake of practising gratitude. It takes getting used to, especially when we’re hired-wired to spot problems that need to be fixed. It’s not about being complacent with the status quo because “it’s the hand we’ve been dealt.” Not at all.
Gratitude is the realisation that it’s possible to choose how we respond to challenges and hurdles that life presents us.
“The more you practice gratitude, the more you see how much there is to be grateful for, and your life becomes an ongoing celebration of joy and happiness” – Don Miguel Ruiz̴