A New Way To Be Thankful
It’s common during this season of the year to see “gratitude challenges” on social media, or to create “gratitude jars” at home. I really do love these concepts, and gratitude is something that I help people actively focus on at my counseling practice, Legacy Counseling Service, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Today I want to issue you a challenge to take these ideas, and then limit and extend then. “What is she talking about?” you might be asking. Let me explain.
In my mind, there is a difference between using the holiday season as a reason to shout to the world what you are grateful for, and using this season to reflect, and then act on, the core values that you are grateful for. The “limit” part of the challenge is to spend some time thinking about what you are grateful for and narrowing those down to 4 or 5 values that seem near and dear to you. The “extend” part of the challenge is to see where you can take bold action to extend what you believe so that you are living out those values on a regular basis.
Living Your Gratitude Has Benefits
Science, and good ole wisdom, tells us that people are physically and mentally at their most fulfilled state when they are living out values that are meaningful to them. Depression, anxiety, and stress is decreased. Life feels more meaningful and satisfying when we live this way, and priorities are put in order, even if it means that your values are inconvenient, take consistent effort, or result in difficult feelings.
Let me give you an example from my own life. I have some core values that are relatively common and you can probably relate to most of them. Not in any special order they are: health, spirituality, connection, and tradition.
Where did these values come from? Well, the core of most of these came from my growing up years, but the independent choice to LIVE OUT these values came from nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained from being a psychologist and doing therapy; from observing the transformative power of therapy, and witnessing my client’s courage. Some of the “living these values” also came from personal aches. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a psychologist or do mental health work to glean the wisdom from your own life experiences or those of your family or friends. You simple need to observe, reflect, and then act.
An Example of Living Your Gratitude
Let’s take the value of health, for example. Most people say they value health, but struggle with being intentional about improving it until it starts going south and they struggling with making adjustments. Now, I’m not trying to cast judgment or make anyone feel bad. But I do want to highlight that most people don’t live out their value of health because it takes consistent effort. It’s easy to fall and not get back up. I know this because I struggle with this also. However, my therapy experiences at the VA in Tampa, FL have strongly influenced how I see my physical and mental health. And that has affected my intentional actions to take better care of my health. While a psychologist at the VA, I provided mental health therapy for veterans who were paralyzed, had a stroke, heart attack, chronic pain, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder, just to name a few. These were typically accompanied by depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Facing the harsh realities of poor health every day at work (and I know I didn’t even see ALL the harsh realities) resulted in me feeling so grateful for how my body functioned that I could no longer take the courtesy tram from the parking lot to the office (about a 10 min walk) without noticing that I was taking my body’s ability to walk for granted. This started me on a path of regular physical movement, not only because I wanted to be healthy, but because I was just so grateful for the internal and external workings of my body that I was lead to act on that gratitude. Day after day I was reminded that health can sometimes slip through your hands through no fault of your own, and sometimes it slips through your hand because you didn’t hold on to it tightly enough. I believe I would be foolish to have learned this lesson but not take consistent action towards better health.
What I’m talking about is connecting your gratitude with action, not just words.
When you are listing the array of things you are grateful for this season I challenge you to begin narrowing them down. See if they clump together through some common theme. If they do, that theme might be one of your values. Once you’ve identified some of your values, challenge yourself to take bold action, on a regular basis, to live out those values. If connection is a value, perhaps you decide to take regular action to meet with a friend, family member, or to send a card on a regular basis, instead of assuming they know how you feel about them. Perhaps you test out your courage and share your hurts, worries, or insecurities with a trusted person in your life, instead of holding it all in. That sharing leads to increased connection.
When you regularly act on your values so that it becomes a way of life, you’ll find that your life will be more meaningful and more fulfilling. It’s this meaningful way of living that will carry you through tough times so that you bend, but not break. And THAT is something to be grateful for!
Dr. Leedy is a clinical psychologist helping adults in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area who are struggling with depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and adjustment to illnesses and injuries. She works with client’s face-to-face and through secure, online counseling.