by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
We live in an emotionally and relationally challenging time…
The Coronavirus pandemic continues without an end in sight. Contention seems the theme of the day over any number of topics: masks, vaccinations, economics, history, gender, sexuality, race, policing, just to name a few hot topics. Practicing gratitude may help.
Now, we head into the holiday season, a time that can be stressful under normal circumstances. And these are not normal circumstances.
I’d like to offer a tangible practice to decrease the stress you experience not only during the holiday season, but also throughout the year. This practice takes the theme of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and embeds it into the very fabric of your life: practicing daily gratitude.
Now, I realize that may sound too simplistic. Research has shown it to be highly effective. What we regularly practice forms habits, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you were able to follow yourself through each day, which do you think you practice more frequently: gratitude or grumbling? As much as you’d like to think you exhibit gratitude, more likely than not grumbling is your go to. Need convincing? What do you do when you encounter more traffic than expected on your commute? What happens when you have to park further away from the store…and it’s raining? How about when you encounter a long checkout line? When your kids won’t cooperate? When your spouse is later than expected? Need I continue?
You become what you practice
When you habitually practice grumbling, you increase your level of discontent. Perpetual discontent increases your stress because the problem solving part of your brain is hardwired to resolve tension. And while your brain is busy problem solving, your body remains on alert, ready to engage in the solution when it comes. Too often, however, the solution never comes. Because there isn’t one.
Those who look to the Bible for hope and help find similar encouragement to replace grumbling with gratitude when facing difficult circumstances.
In Philippians 2:14, we read: do everything without grumbling.
Then, in Philippians 4:6-9, we are encouraged to deliberately practice gratitude.
Keep in mind, the one who wrote those instructions wasn’t sitting on a beach sipping a Mai Tai. He was in a Roman prison cell. Regularly practicing gratitude rather than grumbling helped him find joy even in the midst of tremendous difficulty.
How To Add Gratitude to Your Life
Here are a few ideas that can help you get started practicing gratitude today:
- Link the practice of gratitude to something you’re already doing. For example, as you brush your teeth, challenge yourself to list ten reasons you are grateful. See if you can list 10 different reasons each day.
- “Repurpose” grumbling situations. When you find yourself in traffic or a long line and you feel the urge to complain, instead remind yourself of as many things as you can for which you are grateful. Challenge yourself to keep working on the list for as long as you are in the line!
- Keep a gratitude journal. Place it somewhere you frequent each day – on your nightstand, at the breakfast table, on your desk, etc. Whenever you see it, write at least one thing for which you are thankful. Taking a few extra minutes to read back over what you’ve previously written can also be helpful.
Practicing gratitude under difficult circumstances doesn’t come naturally and takes intentionality. However, the more you practice it, the more you shape your brain to look at the world through the lens of gratitude. Over time, you’ll discover your body is more relaxed and your mind more free from persistent anxious thoughts.
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