Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, and, at the risk of coming off as cliché, I’m reflecting on the spirit behind the occasion. Holidays are interesting phenomena in the way they remind us of important values or principles for a very short period of time. For example, many people can attest to growing distant from things like New Years resolutions by the time the year is half over – if not sooner. Thanksgiving is much the same. We might share a feast with our family and other loved ones, and appreciate it all in the moment, and then return to everyday life and all the worries that go with it.
Having holidays that fleetingly remind us of these principles may be helpful, but I’m all about sustainable solutions – an ideal that’s reflected in my counselling practice. On this day of Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of one of the most useful lessons I’ve learned over the years: the helpfulness of regularly and consistently engaging in practices of gratitude. There are many different traditions that encourage the practice of being grateful. For me it’s about holding purposeful space for things that enrich my life, and doing so as often as I can remember to.
I took my gratitude practice up in response to pervasive stress and worry that became problematic in my life. I was finding myself overwhelmed with things many people find worrisome: finances and being able to take care of basic needs and beyond, a sense of insecurity due to changes in my life, and fears about the future. I noticed my heart rate was elevated for much of the day, my breath shallow, and my ability to sleep was compromised by a steady flow of adrenaline. This only made matters worse. I was spending most of my time reflecting on what seemed to be missing, trying to restore balance, but only feeling increasingly anxious and unsettled.
Although I had been aware that gratitude practices were a thing for years, it wasn’t until a mentor suggested it could help that I considered how it could work for me. My gratitude practice is not unlike mindfulness practices that encourage attention and presence in the moment, coupled with an active account of what I’m grateful for. I engage in these practices purposefully throughout the day, often ending with a review of my whole day and all the experiences and other things that helped to make it as good as it was (even if it was full of adversity). I take brief moments to reflect privately when I’m grateful for an experience, such as when I first get on my bike in the morning and feel enlivened as I move forward, or after having the opportunity to help someone in a counselling session. Whatever the case, through consistent practice, I’m usually able to integrate it into my daily activities seamlessly – almost like really intentional breathing.
Since I first took these practices up, I’ve noticed some significant improvements in my day-to-day life. I’m far less worried or anxious than I was before I made gratitude a focus in my life, and I’m far more joyful and happy moment-to-moment on a daily basis. These gratitude practices have helped me form a solid foundation against common problems that many folks bring into counselling.
With what you know of your life and the challenges you face, could making purposeful time and space for gratitude be of some benefit to you?