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Growing Your Joy

While there are many aspects of healing from trauma that are painful, overwhelming, difficult, and challenging; there are aspects that lead us to ask: What matters? What helps?

Practicing gratitude while you’re in pain and struggling is one of those things that matter and help. I know it sounds like a contradiction. Because when you’re in pain, gratitude can feel like the last thing you want to do. It seems impossible.

Gratitude can be defined in a variety of ways spiritually, philosophically, and scientifically. In my eyes, it is often an undermined spiritual intentional practice that you could engage in to build connection with yourself and others. Building connection supports your recovery, your well-being, and your health. It’s a cornerstone of your self care and your satisfaction in relationships.

To commemorate October as Global Diversity Awareness Month, we’re bringing the spotlight to the spiritual practice of gratitude as a way to strengthen connection and appreciation with one another in a culturally-aware way.

What Is Gratitude?

Growing up, you’ve probably been told to be grateful for what you have. Unfortunately, this would often mean to be silent, to be agreeable, and to feel indebted. From this perspective, gratitude might’ve been taught to you as a tool of conformity and social control.

In reality, gratitude isn’t any of those things. It’s not a tool for owing someone something along the way. 

Gratitude has two core components, according to Robert A. Emmons - one of the key researchers in the field of gratitude. The first is an affirmation of goodness, and the second as a way for us to acknowledge that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. 

Similarly, Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedectine monk and author of Gratefulness, describes gratitude as having two important qualities: the appreciation of something you deem valuable, and that it must be given freely. 

These definitions aren’t historically new. But they have been revived through these spiritual works in the past few years. Growing up, I was taught:

“Do good. Then, throw into the sea” - Arabic Proverb

With these components in mind, you can see how gratitude is an intentional practice through:

  • Genuine thoughtfulness
  • Real appreciation
  • Responsiveness
  • Generous helpfulness
  • A manifestation of love and care
  • Unconditional kindness

When you practice gratitude this way, you experience:

  • Recognition and acknowledgment - being heard, seen, and appreciated
  • Loving-Kindness
  • Resilience and optimism
  • Health benefits
  • Personal freedom

Benefits of Gratitude

There have been thirty five benefits to gratitude based on mental health research findings! (Source). Some of these are:

  • Improved sleep, motivation to exercise, pain tolerance, and heart health
  • Lowering blood pressure, inflammation, and glucose levels linked to diabetes
  • Strengthening your immune system
  • Increasing your self-confidence, patience, optimism, and resilience
  • Helping you battle depression and addiction
  • Strengthening your relationships and fostering a healthy social circle

In relationships, gratitude helps you:

  • Acknowledge the positive and celebrate progress
  • Bring more heart and affection to your interactions
  • Build connection and increase intimacy and closeness
  • Innovate and take risk with one another; building trust
  • Foster openness, willingness, and empathy

In a nutshell, it extends your lifespan, improves the quality of your life, and helps you have more vitality, resilience, and optimism.

Ways to Intentionally Practice Gratitude

Being intentional with your gratitude is crucial to incorporating it into your life. You can practice it in big and small ways. Here are some suggestions that can get you get started: 

  • Start and end your day with a gratitude practice

Take a few minutes per day to take note: What are three things you’re grateful for today? You can get really specific. For example, what are three things you’re grateful for today in your relationship(s)? You can choose to acknowledge this within yourself or share it with others in your life.

  • Pay attention and notice

In your daily life, when you say thank you, are you saying it out of habit? Take a moment to name what you’re grateful for. You may want to go beyond the gesture extended to you. Look around you, take a gratitude walk: what are you grateful for? Maybe it’s the sunshine, or the feeling of the breeze on your face. Does it make you smile? How does it make you feel?

  • Go beyond your personal situation/daily life

What are three things you’re grateful for? For example, are you grateful for the inherent value that diversity brings to your life? Can you appreciate differences as something that enriches your life? Did you cross paths with a stranger who you’re grateful for due to a kindness they showed? Pay attention to the small things - these are the ones we often miss.

  • Share and spread gratitude

Sharing may be with close friends, loved ones, and even with strangers. Create experiences filled with gratitude. Then, write it, say it, show it, or hold it in your heart. Get out of your comfort zone, and maybe even share and spread gratitude with people who seem different from you. It’s a beautiful way to connect with each other’s spirit.

As you navigate your journey of gratitude, remember to savor the moment so you can create more goodness in your life and relationships. And enjoy the abundance that comes with it. 

Today, I’m grateful that I could share with you, for your time, energy, and our shared experiences.

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Hiba Khatkhat

Hiba is a holistic psychotherapist specializing in trauma, couples treatment, and culture. She's passionate about solving mental health crises by practicing prevention. She brings over 18 years of experience working with individuals, couples, & families in her private practice. She is known for her work on the transmission of trauma and its impact on relationships.

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