There are many reasons to appreciate the good things in your life — even if you’re having a bad day.
From enduring friendships, to healthy children, to food on the table, having an “attitude of gratitude” on a regular basis (and not just at certain times of the year like Thanksgiving) offers many benefits to your mental health.
Unfortunately, expressing and feeling gratitude isn’t always easy, but with the right frame of mind and a little bit of practice, you can turn any hopeless situation around to move forward.
This was the subject of the fifth instalment of the Infinite Mindcare Talk Series on Nov. 18 at Books & Books. The talks are free and open to the public, with a new theme each month.
Sutton Burke, clinical director and psychotherapist at Infinite Mindcare, a multi-speciality counselling service located in Centennial Towers, led the talk.
“An attitude of gratitude is having an appreciation in our mind — in everything we do and in different interactions with people — and of staying mindful and aware of why we are grateful for them, and why we appreciate them or the things in our life,” Burke said, adding, “It’s not easy to do that. We forget all these amazing things in our life that we have.”
She is a big proponent of positive psychology, which defines gratitude as what we value and how we express it, and as a deeper appreciation for something or someone, which produces longer-lasting positivity.
Burke said practising gratitude also helps manage anger. “We focus on negativity so much, but it’s the idea of being grateful and an attitude of gratitude in conversation that can have you thinking about the person or situation differently and come out of your anger.”
When it comes to disagreements with a spouse, friend or colleague, she said pausing to be grateful instead of criticising can dissipate anger, impacting the rest of your day for the better.
She also explained how our resilience for coping with trauma often depends on gratitude. This can apply to near-death experiences (“I’m grateful to be alive”), to a horrible break-up (“If it didn’t happen then I wouldn’t have met my husband.”)
Gratitude also increases empathy and enhances relationships. “When you start to be grateful for someone or a situation, you begin to empathise with them,” she said, suggesting to catch yourself next time you complain about a loved one and express gratitude instead.
She also suggested changing the way you ask questions to loved ones in order to create a shift in mindfulness in yourself as well as in them. This not only increases conversation, but also makes the other person think about his or her day with gratitude as well. “Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’ ask, ‘What are three things you enjoyed about today?’ or ‘Who made you laugh today?’” Burke said.
Making a gratitude list when you’re having a hard day is a great way to express it, according to Burke. She said it takes you back to reality, clearing your mind to see people or the situation for what it is; afterward you’re able to make better decisions and weigh your options.
“I learned this at a super young age. My mom would say, ‘Go to your room and make a gratitude list.’ Afterward, I would always feel so good. I still do it, especially when I’m anxious or nervous about something,” Burke said.
She suggested writing 10 things on the list to start and set a timer for 10 minutes. Whether it’s a one-time list or one done every night, the key is not to repeat it and to eventually create longer lists. Good topics to start with are friends and family, but you should also have a gratitude list of things, like health, eyesight, the ability to walk, even social media.
These lists also help with anxiety and depression and are ideal for children and teenagers who don’t talk much to their parents — the key is not to write the list for them, but have them write it themselves so they can think about their own gratitude.
If you’re not inclined to putting pen to paper, Burke recommended practising gratitude meditation. She said to lie in bed and focus on something good by getting an image in your head; when other thoughts pop up, do not judge them, just bring yourself back to your original thought.
“Research shows meditation is connected to happiness, better sleep, more connectivity to friends and family, and much more. Mindfulness is a buzzword right now but it’s an ancient idea. Many religions say thanks even just for waking up,” she said.
After this discussion, Burke then asked the audience to close their eyes and think of something for which they are grateful. The answers were wide and varied: “My dog”; “Finding a parking space”; “Date night”; and “A sunny afternoon,” to name a few. Burke ended with her own expression of gratitude to Books & Books for hosting her monthly talks, and to the audience for participating and sharing.
The next Infinite Mindcare Talk Series event will take place at Books & Books on Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. and will have the theme “Silent Night: Importance of Sleep.”