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Finding Gratitude

By Diane Berry #102219

Question: As the holiday season approaches this year, I find myself feeling a bit melancholy due to the changes we experienced in 2017. Do you have any suggestions on how to cope with this feeling and how I can cultivate the spirit of thankfulness?

Dear Melancholy,
Many experiences happen during the course of a year. Some good; others not so good. Even the positive changes can add stress to our lives. Furthermore, the holidays are a time when we are called upon to take stock and ask the big questions such as: What is going well for us? Is this how we want to spend our time? Do we want to make changes in the coming year?

It is normal to feel a bit down when we focus on what we no longer have. However, one of the best ways to take stock and decide how you want to be spending your time in the new year is to practice gratitude for the things you have been given. I am reminded of the following quote by an anonymous author: “It isn’t about the blessings we receive, but the ones that we appreciate.”

When feeling sad due to changes that have occurred, such as possessions you no longer have and people who are no longer available, spend time focusing on the good things that are currently in your life. If we do not pay attention to our blessings, we may not truly take the time to appreciate them. There are many ways to cultivate this gratitude, especially now.

Here are a few suggestions:

Make a List
Write down all of the things in your life that you find yourself thankful for. If you are struggling to come up with ideas, here are a few to get you started:
• Appreciate your RV, where you spend many pleasant hours.
• The beautiful, natural surroundings to enjoy and give you peace.
• A wonderful family. Perhaps you cannot all be together for the holidays, but you may be able to Facetime with those who are unable to be present.
• Enough money to pay your bills and enjoy a treat every now and then. Sure, we could all use a little extra money. It seems no matter how much we have, we could always use more. However, if you can pay your bills and have a little left over, that is something for which to be thankful.
• Satisfying hobbies to enjoy in your free time and the ability to do them—camping, traveling, walking, hiking, reading, knitting. Whatever you enjoy doing, give thanks for the ability and time to do it.
• Supportive friends. Good friends make us laugh, lend a helping hand and cheer us up when we’re down. Take the time to appreciate them.
Add More to It!
This initial list is meant to be as comprehensive as you can make it. However, you will want to keep it in an easily accessible place. Be sure to add to it when new gifts occur to you, as they likely will once you are focused on the good in your life. Those who practice gratitude regularly tend to find themselves more satisfied with their lives. Another excellent practice is to look at it again whenever you are feeling down. Seeing in writing a list of all of the gifts you are blessed with can brighten your spirits, even in your darkest moments.
Make It a Habit
While your initial list may take an hour or more to compile, it is also a good idea to spend a few minutes at the start (or the end, whichever is easiest for you) of each day by listing three things for which you are grateful. They can be simple and need not mean anything to anyone but you. They should be as specific as possible and ideally connected to the day at hand. For example:
• I am grateful to be able to set out on the next leg of my journey today.
• I am grateful for my beloved pet sleeping at my feet.
• I am grateful that I will see my good friend at lunch today.
• I am grateful for the lovely sunrise I am witnessing this morning.
The more you can stay in the present moment, the more effective your list will be. This is the time to practice mindfulness about your gratitude. Focus as much as you can on the things you are grateful for right this minute.
Thank Someone
Take the time today to thank someone for his or her contributions to your life. It takes only a moment of your time, but can make all the difference to the recipient and to you as well. So often we go through our lives not acknowledging those who are important to us. Thanking them will make their day and help you to appreciate them even more.

Give to Those Less Fortunate
Take 10 minutes and go through your pantry and put together a bag of food. November is a tough time for the food pantries because the weather is getting colder, and there is a great deal of need this time of year. Share what you can with those who have less. Or better yet, spend a few hours volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen. It is incredible what a few hours of giving to those less fortunate can do for your heart.

These are only a few ideas for how to improve your mood and access your gratitude. The more you practice being grateful, the more automatic it will become. Soon you may not have to write lists or review them any longer. Gratitude will have become a regular part of your daily attitude.

I’ll end this article with another anonymous quote on this topic: “Take time to be thankful for everything that you have. You can always have more, but you could also have less.”

Diane Berry After 18 years as a therapist in private practice, Diane and her husband moved to the mountains of Colorado so they could hike and camp to their heart’s content. When not traveling, she teaches social work and human services courses online. Her articles are meant to provide information of a general nature and are not intended to take the place of consulting a health care professional.

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