A Spirit of Gratitude with Rachel Holloway
Often around this time of year, we tend to reflect on the idea of gratitude and ask ourselves important questions about the types of things that we are thankful for. However, whilst doing that you may also find yourself struggling; perhaps you have difficulty identifying those things in your life for which you feel thankful. You may also be experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one. It may not even be a recent loss. This time of year, the memories you have spent with someone you cared deeply about are bound to resurface, and that resurfacing, which we experience as grief, is bound to impact you and your ability to be grateful for the many blessings you have.
Previously, we’ve written about thankfulness and gratitude, and expounded on my advice for finding moments to be thankful. This year, I wanted to sit down with one of our therapists, Rachel Holloway, for some further thoughts and guidance on the Spirit of Gratitude.
Finding the Gratitude Balance
Thanksgiving is a beautiful time of year. A whole season and day dedicated to slowing down, sharing a meal with loved ones, and being present. It’s good to reflect on what’s good. Gratitude is a discipline that adds beauty and depth to our lives. A discipline we could all be more intentional about if we’re honest with ourselves!
What does it look like to practice the discipline of gratitude? Especially in seasons when it seems like the world is full of darkness and things are never going your way.
One way to practice gratitude is growing your awareness of what’s going well in our lives. We often spend a lot of time noticing and talking about what’s wrong. So much of our conversation reinforces our awareness of what’s wrong. ‘I’m exhausted.’, ‘The holidays are coming and we have so many plans!’, ‘This person is causing drama in my life.’ The list goes on. I’m sure as you think about these things, you can think of your own preoccupations on the negatives.
Learn About the Goodness in Your Life
All of these things we’re dealing with are most likely true. And it’s good and important to acknowledge them. They are also only one part of our story at any given moment. At the same time that we might be experiencing hardship, there is also a time and opportunity for our own growth. Often, we can’t have one without the other.
Learning to be more aware of the goodness in our lives adds to our story, opens our eyes to more of our experience, and helps us to appreciate what we do have. To take that above example of some thoughts we might have, ‘I’m exhausted because I’ve been spending extra time making memories with my kids.’, ‘We have so many plans because we have so many people who love us!’, ‘This person is adding drama to my life; how am I contributing to the drama and how can I contribute to the solution?’ Re-framing adds back the goodness already all around us and helps us to find a harmonious balance.
Strengthening the Gratitude Muscle
Life is full of beauty and heartache, wonder and pain, light and darkness. There’s an analogy I heard from a priest once. He explained how we have two wolves within us at all times: one made of light and the other made of darkness. They are constantly fighting each other. When asked which is winning, he responded, “The one I feed.” How are we feeding each wolf? We feed the wolf made of light by recognizing what is good and beautiful, by practicing that small but significant discipline, we are strengthening our gratitude muscles, so to speak.
One way to strengthen these gratitude muscles is by replacing the word “BUT” in our vocabulary with the word “AND”. This allows us to acknowledge that things are hard AND that we have things to be grateful for at the same time. As humans, we are complex, multifaceted beings. We can experience many different emotions and thoughts at the same time. We don’t have to pick one or the other. One doesn’t have to cancel the other out.
An example of how we tend to use BUT can sound like this: “Work is very stressful this time of year, I have so many deadlines coming up. BUT I know I should be grateful because other people have it worse than me. At least I have a family I love to spend Thanksgiving with.”
Using ‘BUT’ in this way completely cancels out the first part of the sentence. It minimizes our experience and can reinforce the belief that we have to be okay all the time. Minimizing our experience, or the experience of others, is a form of “toxic positivity”. By changing that ‘BUT’ to an ‘AND’ we’re honoring two different aspects of what we’re dealing with. We’re allowing ourselves to experience the highs as well as the lows of a situation. And that, in turn, helps us find our gratitude balance.
The above are just some of a variety of simple yet profound techniques that you can use to make a tremendous impact on your life. This is the season of giving thanks, after all. And by taking moments each day to seek out gratitude, you may find your life transformed for the better!
I hope these simple tricks help you to explore where you’re at in your life. If you feel like you’d benefit from more help with this, don’t hesitate to call our office. Our Intake Coordinator can help get you set up with an appointment whenever you’re ready.