By Colleen Pipia, MA, LCPC, CADC
Gratitude. The quality of being thankful. Showing appreciation.
We are taught to never settle, always be working towards something greater and that we should always be striving for more. Are there benefits to having goals and always striving for more? Yes, but we can also be grateful for what is and find contentment with what we have even when it’s not everything we want.
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude simply is being thankful for what we receive and acknowledging the good that we have in our lives. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between people who practice gratitude and higher levels of happiness. Gratitude allows individuals to connect with positive emotions, to enjoy and be present with positive experiences, to find positivity in difficult situations, and to build strong relationships. As a result, individuals improve their health and deal with disappointment, loss or longing.
Gratitude and happiness are more than just a state of mind. There continues to be more and more research behind the theories about this state of mind. Research suggests that when practicing gratitude regularly, not only do people report increased feelings of happiness, but feel better about themselves and are more likely to live longer. Lyubomirsky’s (2008) book “The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life you want,” indicates that the more you practice and express gratitude, the more self-worth and self-esteem you feel, whether it’s thinking about what others do for you or what you have done (for yourself or others). It adds to your confidence and how effective you are at this thing called life. Chida and Steptoe (2008) conducted longitudinal studies about how gratitude positively effects the longevity of an individual’s life. The study determined that practicing daily gratitude made people more likely to have a positive psychological well being and a lower mortality rate whether they were healthy or sick.
Mindfulness. Non-judgmental awareness and presence in the present moment.
When I was doing my internship, my supervisor would ask me every day, “what were you grateful for yesterday?” The first time he asked me this , I responded with “my family,” which was true but generic. As my internship went on and the better I became at practicing gratitude, the less generic my answers became. I remember saying at times that I was grateful for “music, because a song on the radio helped put me in a positive mood,” or “car breaks, because they prevented me from getting into an accident.” Even “stress, because it was evidence that I was in the last year of my master’s program and working towards achieving my goal.” The reason I share this is because what I learned as an intern was, as I practiced daily gratitude, I found myself going through each day being mindful. When something would happen, I would think to myself “I am grateful for this moment,” and that is being mindful. So by practicing gratitude, I became mindful.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is commonly used as a therapeutic technique. Through the years, I have realized that practicing gratitude when I wasn’t completely content, I was able to find moments of contentment. In moments where I experienced loss, I was able to identify things that I gained. And when I was present in a moment, I felt a stronger connection to other people, nature, and was able to have a better understanding of my emotions.
Mindfulness and gratitude are two concepts that are easily understood but difficult to implement. We can practice them anywhere, and with daily practice they become second nature. Sometime we just need a reminder of the benefits, and a reminder to start a daily practice. So in this moment, what are you grateful for? Feel free to reach out to us at The OCD & Anxiety Center at 630-522-3124 if you are struggling with difficult emotions.