Gratitude – The Gift that Keeps on Giving

By Dr. Jamie Huysman
LCSW, CFT

In recent years there’s been a lot written and researched about gratitude and “thanksliving” which supports the idea that those who practice being grateful are happier than those who don’t.

Of course, happiness is a relative term. Sometimes people can appear to be happy when secretly they are not. Even professional success is not a guarantee that we will be happy. Outward manifestations of success — beautiful home, car, spouse, etc. – may be attractive as symbols of status, but they do not necessarily reflect the emotional life of those that have them.

For this moment, I’ll ask you to indulge me by honestly asking yourself and answering the following questions:

1. When was the last time you expressed appreciation to someone?

I think we can all agree that it feels good to be appreciated. To know that someone is paying attention to what we’re doing at home, at work, and out in the world makes a difference toward feeling good about ourselves.

I’m sure there have been times when all of us have felt that we were not appreciated. In this circumstance, an attitude of gratitude can have far-reaching effects, many of which we will never know. It can start with you!

If you’ve ever had someone say something to you that made your day, you know what I am talking about. Being acknowledged for what we do makes it easier to express appreciation toward others.

2. Do you find that you focus on problems rather than solutions?

It’s a fact that life has its share of problems. How we react to these situations is symptomatic of our mental, emotional, and even physical health. Focusing on a problem makes the problem bigger and can lead to all sorts of catastrophic imaginings.

Sometimes a problem presents itself because solving it will teach us something we need to learn. A reoccurring problem can provide insight into something that’s holding us back from living our lives to the fullest. There is a satisfaction to be found in solving problems and learning something new. Much more than entertaining the doom and gloom of a thing.

3. Do you sometimes pretend to listen to those or whom you care?

Now hear this. The only thing worse than not listening is pretending to listen! Everyone who relies on your care requires your presence and full attention are required to be effective. Not taking the time to listen actively is a signal that you are detached from your work and your life; definitely a red flag for burnout and compassion fatigue.

4. Do you use phrases and words of common courtesy, like “please” and “thank you”?

The smallest acts of kindness and courtesy seem to be vanishing these days. Since when did the expectations of entitlement and instant gratification make meaningful pleasantries a thing of the past? Common courtesy can have a “paying it forward” effect” that can permeate our interactions with others and make the world a nicer place.

5. Can you name five things for which you are grateful?

The truth is that when we are not thankful for what we have (or don’t have), we operate from a mindset of lack and diminishment. Neither of these is found in any recipe for happiness.

There is always something to be grateful for! Even a little gratitude for the simplest things has a positive effect on our being and belonging in the world.

For a happier you, try practicing the following every day:

• Thank at least one person for something

• Focus on a solution to a problem instead of the problem itself

• Listen to understand, not just to respond

• Look at people when you talk to them

• Be present and involved in your life

• Be happy about something

• Greet each day and release each night with gratitude.

I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read this. Thank you!

However to celebrate the season, I wish you joy, peace and love,

— Dr. Jamie.

Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.