Existential Psychology

Uncomplicated Gratitude

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With Thanksgiving fast approaching it’s the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the cultivation of gratitude. Actually gratitude is a state to cultivate all the time, not just on special occasions. It’s been shown that people who consciously feel a lot of gratitude in their lives are more positive and happier than the general population. Thinking about whether positivity causes gratitude or gratitude causes positivity is not the right view, neither of these states exists in a vacuum, they feed off of each other, and if you can find things to feel genuine gratitude about, things that have been flying under the psychic radar, you’ll be sure to feel more positive too.

When I was in graduate school one of my mentors, Mike O’Connor, reminded interns to address feelings with clients around the holidays. For people who are struggling the holidays can have exactly the opposite of their intended effect, causing a lot of unhappiness and distress by acting as a stark reminder that things aren’t going very well. People are likely to compare their own situations unfavorably to how cheerful everyone else seems to be, to the mood portrayed in seasonal music, movies, and commercials. They feel down not in spite of but exactly because of the general festive atmosphere. The lives of everyone else seem so perfect and the imagination runs wild with thoughts of happy families, community and belonging, hope and joy, safety and security. “All these things for everyone else but not for me.”

If you’ve been feeling down precisely because the holidays have arrived then you especially can benefit from taking some time to cultivate gratitude. As the title of the article suggests, it doesn’t have to be that complicated and once you get going it won’t be that hard for you to think of a multitude of objects that fit the criteria.

What happens to many of us as time goes by is that we grow jaded, we start to view the extraordinary as mundane, we lose the curiosity and wonder that came so naturally to us as children. You can recapture that state and start to feel a lot of gratitude by thinking about simple things like breathing, having two good legs to walk around on, or listening to a favorite song. Then mindfully do these things and let yourself feel even more gratitude than you did when you thought about them. Shoot for uncomplicated gratitude, don’t get caught up in believing your life needs to measure up to some external standard, don’t waste your time comparing yourself unfavorably to everybody else. Instead just focus on cultivating gratitude from the countless wonders of being a living, breathing, intelligent organism, wonders that you may have come to take for granted.