November 25th, 2008
09:47 PM ET

Gratitude despite the crisis?

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.

Filed under: Dr. Gail Saltz • Economy • Raw Politics
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Dr. Saltz
    Thank you for sharing this advice. We do still have a lot to be grateful for even though at times its hard to see. One thing I'm going to add to mine though is if I'm grateful for a person – like my children or spouse – I'm going to tell them how grateful I am they are in my life so they know I am not taking them for granted. Have a nice Thanksgiving.

    November 25, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  2. Sallie Valentine

    Dear God, We as a nation have set aside this one day to celebrate our gratitude. To give thanks for the abundance in our lives, although this abundance comes to us in many forms such as love, health, intellect; we choose to symbolize this bounty with food as did those who so long ago fled to this land in search of religious freedom. The abundance of the harvest, and that which sustains our bodies. It also serves as a reminder of our gratitude for our minds and hearts that directs our bodies to keep us without want. We also give thanks for those we hold most dear by coming together. Although you made us individuals you call on us to be one in spirit, the community of man. Never before has that seemed more evident than this year. We recently elected our forty- forth president. We are living in incredible times, living a global lesson. I remember John Kennedy giving a speech in 1968 in which he said that the chinese symbol for chaos is the identical symbol for opportunity. How vivid and aprops that statement seems now. So today my prayers, faith, and world view
    have expanded. For this Dear Lord I give you all the thanks in my heart.

    November 25, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  3. Joanne in Ontario Canada

    Americans can be thankful That Bush's term is about to end.

    November 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
  4. earle,florida

    You know, I grew up in a large family and we had turkey twice a month, it made one great meal, enough leftovers for a second/or sandwiches,and the best homemade soup money can't buy. Come to think of it, we also had ham,but not as often being it was more expensive,but it spread into one/two,meals,sandwiches,and the best pea soup with the ham on the bone, money couldn't buy! Gosh, what's happened to these family's today that can' cook for themselves,making inexpensive nutritional meals,other than Mc'Donald's for dinner three times aweek? Thank God for my large family,that cherished love over wealth..... Happy Thankgiving America

    November 25, 2008 at 6:51 pm |
  5. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Dr. Saltz!
    I feel that material possessions are so unimportant compared to love, family, peace and God's miraculous creation.
    I can't wait to see my family this season. The hard times won't stop us from loving and laughing together. Also, I have some friends I have adopted as family so I will enjoy sharing the love with them too!
    In the end, we can't take it with us but I do believe that the spirit within us lives on. I want to spread as much love and compassion as I can. I may not get a second chance.
    I want to take the time to marvel at the brilliant autumn leaves, sigh at the beauty of a fragile butterfly who somehow defies gravity, or listen to the symphony of a migrating songbird.
    Life is just too short to not caress each and every living being with awe.
    So, this Thanksgiving I will be blessed with my family and health. We will miss those who have gone before us and celebrate their lives.
    Most important, we will share joy and laughter and hold on to each other no matter how hard times get.
    I wish you and everyone a very blessed holiday. Share the love with someone you know. They may just need it!

    November 25, 2008 at 6:26 pm |
  6. susan

    Knowing that Obama is going to be in the White House soon makes me the most grateful this season. Yes! Barack Obama does give me hope and so does my bankruptcy attorney because my attorney has given me relief from the medical bill collector and the 18% interest I was being charged on my ever increasing giant medical bill from one surgery. This is the first holiday season I really looking forward to~even though we can't really afford gifts this year.

    November 25, 2008 at 6:06 pm |
  7. Laura

    What crisis? Are you still eating? Does your home have heat and electricity? Then you are way ahead of most of the world.

    We always have much to be thankful for as each one of us has more than we would ever need, despite what we may be convincing ourselves of.

    November 25, 2008 at 5:27 pm |
  8. Gregory

    Why is our government so quick to bail out the banks and financial companies when they fail but when the big 3 need help they are run threw the ringer. They are told to restructure and the banks and financial groups like AIG and citigroup get hand outs. Does anyone understand that they are called the big 3 for a reason. If they are allowed to go under its not just the autoworkers that suffer its everyone down to the guy washing the cars on Obamas Main Street. It will be a disaster if they are allowed to go under. Okay they had bad form by flying to DC in there own jets but quite blaming the CEO's. There board of directors wants them to fly that way. Can you imagine if they flew commercial the chance they are taking. I don't see these same congressmen complaining when they are loaned the use of these jets for there own use or when Obama flew all over in a private jet for his use or when the president uses airforce one to fly. When need to get are act together and save this economy and stop pulling hairs. Citigroups Ceo put them in the hole they are in with the subprime morgateges and congress didn't say anything to them just handed them money on a Sunday.

    November 25, 2008 at 5:26 pm |
  9. clark

    to whom or what is our thankfulness supposed to be directed?

    if everything happens by chance should we be thankful or embarrassed when we receive something good in our lives?

    November 25, 2008 at 5:21 pm |

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