Since the beginning of November, I’ve enjoyed reading friends’ posts on social media, giving thanks for something every day. The intention is to engage in this for 30 days, leading up to and through the Thanksgiving holiday.
This summer, lightning struck my home and caused a fire. There are so many things I am thankful for as I recall that experience. No one was hurt. The house didn’t burn down. The firemen didn’t have to break down the front door. I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better since the incident.
We’ve all seen the destruction and devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. I’ve seen many comments from friends online about just how fortunate we were in the Baltimore-Washington area to have not been hard hit. And while I am very thankful about being spared from the superstorm, I have to wonder, how does gratitude become a lifestyle, a way of thinking, after the news inevitably stops the coverage? Can we each find something to appreciate even in the worst of circumstances? May it not take a lightning strike or someone else’s tragedy for me to be thankful every day. And if I do find myself extremely challenged, I want to maintain a spirit of thankfulness in those trials.
What about remaining thankful in the mundane, where nothing bad happens but it seems like nothing great is, either? How do I not lose sight of those “small” things (which, in reality, are not insignificant at all)? My guess is that many of us get caught up in daily life again soon after the holiday season passes.
I am not suggesting that we all walk around in denial and pretend that difficult circumstances don’t exist. But it is dangerously easy to focus on the negative rather than the positive. We become what we focus on. The good news is we can train our brains to practice gratitude. Neuroscientists are discovering that people who focus more on what they’re thankful for have fewer health complaints.
A synonym for gratitude is appreciation. A gratitude or appreciation list will look different for everyone, but it don’t just think about things, think about people you are thankful for and in what way.
This year I plan on sending out a letter with my Christmas cards. I’ve actually been working on it throughout the year, reflecting each month on the highs and lows so I won’t forget just how much I’ve come through this year.
Are you participating in “30 Days of Gratitude,” either online or in your own private way? What have you noticed as a result? How has the practice of gratitude changed you and those around you? If you haven’t tried this exercise, how would your perspective change if you began writing down 3 things that went well each day?
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.