Monday, November 19, 2012

Pausing for Gratitude

by Linda Schulze, M.S.W., LCSW

Early November is time for me to take a deep breath.  It’s a brief period where the craziness of early fall has come to end and the holiday season hasn’t started yet.  It’s a time to pause and be thankful even as we prepare for Thanksgiving rituals.  Psychologists tell us that being thankful, looking for areas in our lives that we can be grateful, can have a positive effect on our health.  Being purposeful about noticing things we can be grateful for has been correlated with better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.   

The purposeful part is important.  Gratitude is an emotion we don’t necessarily feel unless we give it some attention.  As we do make an effort to intentionally be grateful, we will find it will become easier and experience the positive mental and physical effects.   It also can help reduce stress.  Looking for what we can be thankful can help us be less likely to experience stress producing emotions like envy, resentment, anger, and regret. 

This month, find a notebook and start a grateful journal.  At the end of each day, note a few things for which you are grateful.   Especially notice what you are grateful for about the people in your life.   This can help you feel more connected and compassionate toward others. 

Another idea, recommended by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.” 

The Bible recommends in many places to cultivate thanksgiving.  In one place, the author wrote to a group of Christians about relating to one another. He recommended that they live in with the peace of Christ in their hearts and be thankful.  He goes on to say that as they are talking to each other do so with gratitude in their hearts toward God.  He finishes the thought with, “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him.” Colossians 3:15-17

It would be great to go into December with a little less anxiety and a little better sleep!  In my house we make a Thanksgiving poster and family members write throughout the month of November things for which they are thankful.   I started it a few years ago and now my kids ask each fall, “Is it time to make the poster?”