Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: An exercise in gratitude
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
I find it a bit ironic that, just as we are concluding political races where so much mud-slinging, character-attacking, back-biting and agenda-pushing has occurred, we now look ahead and see the holiday season before us – a season suggesting the hope of pageantry, beauty, joy, gratitude and fellowship.
Talk about extremes! Are you with me? I felt like doing cartwheels down the interstate once the elections were over! It’s certainly time to move toward some healing and some kindness and some acceptance! How do we get there?
While the mere idea of the pending holidays certainly can evoke a myriad of emotional responses among us, one thing is clear: They are coming, ready or not!
Some folks look forward to the holiday season and the family gatherings, the other celebrations and the noise that surround it. Others, however, have a sense of sadness (or even dread) for the pending holidays because there may be division in the family, or loss, or heartbreak, or painful reminders of a loved one who is missing. Certainly, I would assume that each of us can attach a powerful emotion to just the idea of the coming holidays.
In many counseling sessions from the past, I have sat with folks who struggle with the inherent expectation that holiday season brings – united and happy families joyfully carving and enjoying the turkey and soon sitting around the tree while carolers sing on the doorstep.
Nope … it’s not like that at all, and the emotional struggle, emptiness and sadness are deep and very, very real. Of course, we cannot do anything about the sights and sounds of jolly expectations that are reinforced daily wherever we look. BUT, we can do a lot about what is going on inside of us! May I suggest an exercise in gratitude?
Make a list titled “100 Things that I am Grateful For.” I have done this exercise myself, and I have to recommend it because it makes you dig down deep in your heart, your history and your personal life story to collect the blessings that may have a bit of rust or dust on them.
My personal list included serious matters (my gratitude for a godly husband who chose me all those years ago) to the rather silly (my gratitude that I learned how to drive a stick shift and loved it).
The point is this: As you ponder, recollect, reminisce and begin to write, your pen may take on a life of its own! It is a powerful exercise and can help you realize that while the outside world is certainly spinning on its axis, your inside treasure chest of memories and blessings is greater than you realize! Merely writing them down will reinforce that, and you just might be able to face the pending holidays with a fresher mindset.
After all, the mud-slinging of the elections is behind us – let’s not let our hearts and minds now be filled with commercial expectations of the pending holidays. Rather, let’s look within and capture the gratitude that is sure to exist there. That space inside you where blessings reside just may need a dust rag, some polish and a quiet time of introspection so that the items can begin to flow out on paper!
Oh … and while you’re at it … glance up to the One from Whom all blessings flow and say, “Thank you.” Grab a pencil … what are you waiting for?