BY ELIZABETH O’CONNOR
Gratitude week 1: …But what do I have to be thankful for?
When you’re feeling mentally unwell, often the last thing you want to hear is ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’, this often comes across as ignorant and patronising, and there are some cases where it is. However, there is a way that we can put this concept to productive use…
So what exactly is the meaning of gratitude when it comes to mental health? According to the Harvard Medical Dictionary, gratitude is:
“a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”
Introducing gratitude into our lives means trying to replace feelings of self-doubt, and self-pity (both of which are part and parcel of a mental illness) with a sense of appreciation for the positive things in our lives.
Research has shown that feelings of gratitude can do well to replace negative feelings of anger and envy that we may hold within us, especially when we are unwell. Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher has carried out tests to confirm that gratitude effectively increases happiness and decreases depression.
This is not to say that anybody reading this is ungrateful in the rude sense of the word. Simply that becoming aware of the feeling and actively working to apply it to our everyday lives can have a beneficial effect.
Realising what we have to be thankful for, and being able to realise this even in the worst times in our life can foster resilience. As well as this, it can help us to put our feelings into perspective. We are not our feelings, and encompassing gratitude can make us realise how much else there is to us and our lives than simply the way we feel at one moment in time.
To link back to my earlier posts, mindfulness is a great way to introduce gratitude into our lives. While we are meditating, or grounding ourselves, it can be useful to focus on things in our life we are grateful for and appreciative of.
Gratitude seems like an abstract topic on the surface, and I must admit that at first I was sceptical over it’s practical uses when it comes to our mental well-being. Over the next month we will be looking at practical ways of introducing gratitude into our everyday lives, as well as the science behind it.