I’m back from a summer hiatus, the purpose of which was to refresh and recharge as well as think ..." /> I’m back from a summer hiatus, the purpose of which was to refresh and recharge as well as think ..." />

Living in Gratitude

Smiling manI’m back from a summer hiatus, the purpose of which was to refresh and recharge as well as think about what kind of “wisdom” I’d like to contribute this year. Although there are so many topics to write about, I want to make sure I don’t repeat myself (although that might not be so bad) and can make a small contribution to the lives of my readers.

In defense of repetition, there is often a great deal of it in psychotherapy and counseling. Truth be told, each time anyone tells a story or relates an incident, it comes out slightly (or even markedly) different. Both the teller and the listener have a different experience in the retelling. The theory is also that each time someone describes an experience, particularly as it relates to trauma, the experience diminishes in power. It is as though putting the experience and the feelings out into the universe is healing in and of itself. There is also the very important aspect of having someone listen.

It seems, in going over my list of topics, that I have not written about living in gratitude, which is something I try to practice each and every day. I find it to be a wonderful antidote to depression, disconnection, self-hatred, cynicism, frustration, and so on (I probably could go on and on).

It is a state of mind, a practice, a tool that works for me and my patients. When I ask them, for instance, if there is anything they feel is going well in their lives, they are almost always able to come up with something (and often more than just one thing). I then ask them to sit with their list of positives and negatives in their lives. Often they are able to see that there is some balance (neither all dark nor all light). From there they are able to shift their thinking. They may feel more motivated to change what they are unhappy about if that is possible. They may even be able to feel grateful for the good things.

I used this approach with a patient a few days ago who reported serious anxiety upon awakening. When asked about her thoughts at that hour, she said she worried about surviving in the future, not getting her inheritance, not being able to take care of herself, never being happy in a relationship. I commented that her fears of the future were enough to make anyone fearful. From that point, I remarked that she seemed to be bypassing everything in her present life. I asked if there was anything that she felt good about in her current situation. Between the two of us, we were able to come up with several things, including a new job with benefits, living rent free for the moment, recent reconnection with old friends, a new exercise regimen that was going well, being able to meet all of her financial obligations  (and a few other things).

I asked her if it was possible just for the moment to feel grateful for the positive things in her life, and if that was not possible, to actively work to quiet the negative voices about the future and substitute gratitude in her own voice for what was at hand in the present. I also suggested that she write it down.

She said she felt disconnected from gratitude in the moment but agreed to work on it.

The next morning I received an email from her thanking me for our session the night before. She reported that she felt much better after our talk and had begun to practice what I suggested.

I didn’t provide any sort of “miracle cure” for anxiety or depression. I only used what is often used in 12-step programs and cognitive behavioral therapy—substituting one set of feelings for another. It may seem easier than it is in practice, but that’s the key—practice.

Living in gratitude can in fact become habit forming.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • CW

    September 11th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Some times we just forget the good things in life,don’t we!When I think about this I feel its because our wants have increased just so very much!Think about it-you have a roof over your head and a meal to eat and good clothes to wear,you are already doing better than hundreds of millions of people in this world!

    When we forget the good things,it is then that we pay more attention to the things that are not so great,things that may not even need so much of a concern.Maybe I’m wrong maybe I’m right but if being grateful benefits me,then why not?!

  • steph brooks

    September 11th, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Thank you so much for this reminder to live in gratitude today, because I was definitely needing this!

    With it being the anniversary of 9/11, I have spent a lot of this past 11 years feeling very sorry for myself and the losses that I had when this experience happened. I lost two very special people in my life due to the terrorist attacks, and while not depressed all the time there have been times over the years when I have wondered why them and why not me? It has haunted me that I could have been a part of that attack had I not had an appointment that morning that would have brought me into work late. I was lucky, but why? Rather than taking this time to be thankful for being alive lot of the time I have spent wondering why. I have so much to be grateful for but have spent very little time appreciating that. So thanks for this message that reminds me that this is exactly what I need to do from this day forward.

  • Carol

    September 11th, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    So sorry to hear about the losses that you experienced on September 11, 2001 steph. But it sounds good that even if it has taken you this long, you have begun to see that the world can be a beautiful place if you are willing tp move away from your past and embrace a positive future. That is not to say that you cannot mourn your losses, as that obviously has had a profound effect on your life. But it is a reminder that choosing to live a life of gratitude is so much better than living a life filled with anger and regret. I hope that every day you are able to find a way to move forward just a little more and heal with peace.

  • milner

    September 12th, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    always easy to question why one facet of our life is not that great compared to being thankful for one that is.we are built that way.most if not all people have trouble even remembering to be thankful for all the good that they have.human being are thankless creatures by default.how else do you explain the environmental kill that we constantly engage in?

  • g Bray

    September 12th, 2012 at 4:25 AM

    Many times all it takes to enjoy the good things in life is to actually just slow down and remind yourself of all of the good things that you do have to be thankful in life.
    I know that I am the worst at getting in such a rush, always on the go, that I naturally fail to live a life in gratitude. I spend a lot of time putting out the little fires of everyday life because those are the things that demand immediate attention. But what I fail to do in the mean time is to stop and think about the things that are not necessarily requiring immediate attention but that deserve to be acknowledged. In the midst of putting out the fires I sometimes focus only on the bad and fail to remember to remember the good. Living in gratitude has to be about more than that. We have to remember that there will always be negative energy to bring us down, but if we live centered more around the good, then gratitude for that wins out every single time.

  • Stella

    September 12th, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    I feel the need to be grateful for just about everything I have and am. There are far too many people disadvantaged to such a large degree for us to take things for granted.

    An additional benefit to being grateful is that I feel good about myself and can treat others in a way that they feel happy about it.It is sad to see the way people treat others generally and that is only degrading with the years passing by.

  • Kalila Borghini

    September 12th, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    Thank you all for your comments on my article. It is always gratifying to receive responses to something I’ve written. To Steph in particular and anyone else for whom this might be relevant, sounds like you’re suffering from what’s known as “complicated grief.” I recently published another article which may be useful. look at my hildofthestones .com website under Grief Counseling. The link is at the bottom of the page. I hope you are getting help with this. If you want to discuss this further, send me a private email. Kalila

  • steph brooks

    September 13th, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    thank you Kalila
    I will definitely take a look at the link on your website, Today is much better than Tuesday, so I am hoping to make those small but persistent steps forward and away from so much of the hurt

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.