How many of us have heard some version of: “You have so much to be thankful for!”
Do you say it to others? Is it a way to deflect from pain or someone else’s discomfort? Or is it a genuine psychological nudge to dispute negative thinking and get back on track?
Gratitude—such a buzzword these days. But what does it mean and how do we remain in its blissful state? The answers are complicated because gratitude flourishes or diminishes based on our desire to remind ourselves that there are reasons to be appreciative. It is not always a natural state; for most, we must work at it, and it is fluid, not fixed. It is a powerful antidote at our disposal.
Practicing gratitude strengthens our immune system and is even good for your heart. In a 2015 study at the University of California at San Diego, patients with cardiovascular disease were asked to write down what they were grateful for; researchers found a link between increased gratitude and decreased heart inflammation and improved heart rhythm. Acknowledging the presence of gratitude in our lives helps us manage and cope with illness and mental stress, improving our overall health. It also serves to battle loneliness.
Experts offer suggestions for cultivating a garden of gratitude. Among other things, at its core, the evidence suggests that we might do well to be grateful for “small mercies.” Small acts, giving or receiving, and being reflective, is beneficial in shifting our mindset. After all, this is the key to a healthy, emotionally balanced mind. Taking control of our thoughts is taking control of our feelings and regulating our feelings leads to healthful, positive conduct and behavior.
Gratitude is much more than just the acts of giving or receiving; it embodies a level of insight and awareness of the world around us. It creates our narrative for the people, places and things we experience.
The bottom line is that it is about the small things. Ask yourself every night before you close your eyes, “What am I grateful for today?” Before we close our eyes to the day, my son and I ask each other, ‘what was the rose in your day and what was the thorn?’ This helps us to practice to remember the good stuff, not just the thorny patches in each day. Take stock and you too will begin to see that your life is more open to the simple pleasures. In this light, the bigger stuff can feel less overwhelming. Happy Thanksgiving!
Outreach Teen & Family Services  is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.