We have made it to June 1st and we are so grateful to see our communities moving forward and taking necessary steps to continue forward during what has been a challenging time for all of us in so many ways. This week's installment of 'Mental Health Monday' explains gratitude as we navigate our new normal and take our first steps through new experiences together.
One of the most underused and underappreciated tools to improve mental health is always available to us, costs nothing, and becomes easier to do the more we do it.
Gratitude (derived from the Latin word gratia which means grace) is a powerful tool proven by research to allow us to:
What is gratitude exactly?
It is that feeling of appreciation of what we receive, the sense of acknowledging the goodness in our lives, and the process of understanding that none of us are entitled to receiving good, but are blessed to receive it.
People have different ways of feeling and showing gratitude. People can look back at the past and be grateful for the friends they had, or the adventures of their lives, or for the positive effects their careers had on their community or others. (We see this kind of gratitude expression often in our older communities, as they look back in reflection of their lives). People can use the here-and-now to find things to be grateful about: the beauty of another sunset, the smile on their kid’s face, or the gentle hand of their spouse on their shoulder at a time of emotional need. Some people practice gratitude during prayer, others during meditation or during mindfulness. Then too, people can use what had happened to them in the past and in every day of their lives to be able to have an expectant attitude towards the future, certain that no matter what may come, they will be able to find things and people for which to be grateful.
Some people are naturally able to be grateful in that they are simply put together in that fashion. They are naturally optimistic and instinctively inclined to feel gratitude. They may also have been fortunate enough to have a grateful heart modelled for them by their parents or grandparents.
Others may find it harder to do, whether because they have been wounded by life and have come to expect life to bite them in the back; or whether by natural temperament or personality they tend to be more pessimistic, cynical, and mistrustful.
The good news also for the latter group is that neurophysiological research has clearly demonstrated that the more we practice at being grateful, the easier it becomes to become grateful. Indeed, even if we do not find something about which to be grateful, the brain still learns to become more easily grateful, because we tried. (This latter phenomenon is called neuroplasticity, another topic I like, like mindfulness. I am grateful that I have topics I love to talk about. What can I say.)
Here are a few practical ways to practice gratitude for those of us to whom it does not come spontaneously.
If we learn to become more grateful, we have such a better perspective on our life, on its brevity, on its worth, and on how beautiful and amazing it is to be alive and have people who love us and appreciate us.
Remember, gratitude is always available and costs nothing to practice.
Dr. Strauss was born in South Africa, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1995. He has a private practice in the Fraser Valley and sees patients with mental health issues in his community. He was Head of the Psychiatry Department at a regional hospital with a staff of nine psychiatrists until last year when he decided to focus on his practice and his work at our hotel. Dr. Strauss has always been interested in long-term human relationships and envisioned enhancing relationships.
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