Dr. Gail Saltz
This thanksgiving an abundance of families are going to be thinking, “What exactly do I have to be thankful for?” Thankful I still have my home, though it’s worth less than ever? Thankful I have the holiday off from my job, though I may not have a job shortly? Thankful I planned and saved for my future, though I am watching those savings dwindle on a daily basis? It certainly can seem difficult to mount a feeling of appreciation in the midst of evolving disaster.
Interestingly though, gratitude is exactly the antidote to feeling stressed and angry. In fact, it is the people who manage to count their blessings in the smaller pleasures of life that fare the best in times such as these. If noticing how lovely the trees are, or enjoying how lucky you are to think your spouse is funny is not the kind of thing that would come naturally to you…fear not, it simply means you have to make more effort to stop and notice such parts of life and then consciously register your gratitude for them. You have to “work out” your gratitude muscle. For many people what works best is making a daily list of three to five things (any things at all) that you appreciate. Writing them down in a journal is even more effective, allowing you to review the long list from time to time.
The brain is a plastic organ and the more a particular pathway is used the stronger those connections get. This is true for angry scared feelings like “my 401K is going down and I’m scared I won’t be able to retire” as well as thankful feelings like “I appreciate eating this delicious dinner I just made with my spouse”. This is supported by research in the area of gratitude which shows a decreased risk of depression, alcohol abuse and specific fears in people who are more thankful. In fact a study which had subjects calling a phone number to report what they felt thankful for, found this behavior to correlate with lowering blood pressure, feelings of hostility and improving mood. As a mental health professional I would say that making specific efforts to register your gratitude about “the small stuff” is actually like doing cognitive therapy, you are changing your thought pattern.
So this holiday, though times are quite tough, help yourself out by noticing how delicious the turkey and stuffing taste, by thinking about how lucky you are to have whoever you love in your life, by counting the blessings of each day lived and appreciated. If you do this daily, by Christmas, no matter how far the DOW has dropped, your spirits will have lifted.
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