Blog by Ashley Simpson, LCSW at Agape Therapy Institute
If you enter into a Google search “science behind gratitude” you will get 96,500,000 articles. Obviously, there is something to gratitude. What is gratitude? How is it beneficial? How can I build a gratitude practice?
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is the practice of feeling and acknowledging appreciation. It is focusing, intentionally, on the things that we have, instead of thinking of the things we do not have. It can be focusing on things in your life (your health, your home, your relationship, your kids, etc.), it can be broader things (the sunshine, a sweet smell in the air from spring flowers), or it can be concrete things (a phone call from a friend, a gift, words of encouragement from a coworker). It can be anything that you feel thankful for. Gratitude is noticing those feelings and what you are thankful for.
How is it beneficial?
There are studies about the impact of gratitude on the brain. Practicing gratitude has shown to increase levels of dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter), serotonin (the happiness neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (the love/cuddle neurotransmitter) in the brain. Gratitude stimulates areas of the brain that make us feel connected to the world and others, feel heard and seen, and feel happy. It can reduce physical pain, help with sleep, and reduce stress.
Practicing gratitude can literally change your frame of mind. The more you increase your practice of gratitude, the easier it will be to find things to be grateful for, even in tough situations, therefore increasing your resilience. This enables us to better see the “sunshine through the clouds” - that little silver lining that some may see, while others may not. We can see the positives and focus on those things, and that positive frame of mind can help alleviate these mental and emotional symptoms of depression.
How can I build a gratitude practice?
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Blog post by Ashley Simpson, LCSW at Agape Therapy Institute
I was inspired yesterday by a quote that I read on social media. It spoke to the stories of resilience we all have. At times, and it feels like especially now, it can feel as though everything is negative, doomed, life-threatening, and dark. During times of darkness, stories can also be found of incredible resilience.
This reminds me of the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
Have you been able to find happiness in the mud? Have you found moments of meaning in suffering? Are you having trouble finding any happiness or meaning through your metaphorical mud?
This is an extraordinary time. We are living through a pandemic, an election year, a suffering economy and high unemployment, and a movement for racial and social justice. Families have been stuck indoors with others that may or may not be healthy for them. People have been unable to physically be together, to give a hug or hold a hand of a friend, to go out to a movie or dine indoors. People have lost their jobs, lost loved ones. It may feel like there can be no joy.
This is where the essence of therapy makes its interlude. How can we work together to find your lotus flower. To find the ways in which you have bloomed through this struggle. What can we learn in this moment? What feelings or thoughts can we sit with and explore more deeply? What can we look forward to in the future?
If you are struggling in the mud, struggling to find your joy or connect to your resilience, therapy could be a very beneficial place for you. A place to tell your story and to connect with your own brave resilience.