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Gratitude

There are some terrible things happening at the moment but actually I still have a lot to be grateful for….

There is plenty to gripe about at the moment! Plenty to criticise … plenty of fear, plenty of anger sorrow and loss. Plenty of conspiracy theories. Plenty of opposing political and social views ….. LOTS of bad news and LOTS of negative thoughts. What happens when we spend time dwelling on this stuff? It’s not the stuff of joy, happiness and contentment …..that’s for sure!


There are alternative views about which comes first: The thought? or the Feeling (emotion)? One view is that the thought comes first, and the feeling comes along after. Using a train as an analogy; that the thought is like the engine, and the feeling like the coach. If the analogy has some truth and I think about all that is wrong with the world …. How am I going to feel?


Another helpful analogy is the mind as a filing room – not so common now, but anyone remember filing cabinets? Think of all the information as coming into your mind on pieces of paper ….Right now I have a whole cabinet on Covid containing all the information that comes in. It is sectioned into latest restrictions, risks, finances, personal information about family and friends – who is isolating , whether they have had Covid or not , how they are responding to it all etc – these sections are cross referenced to information in other cabinets; like the cabinet that is about my mum – who she is, her character, her illness and vulnerability- you get the idea … but when new information comes in I diligently file it away to remember the important stuff- I can easily retrieve those bits of information because I know where I can look in my memories ….


So, what happens when some information comes in that does not seem as relevant? Let’s say for example, the sunset this evening, and how the light caught the hills – Wow! All the colours and beauty – I might not bother and file that, though, because it might not seem as important as all that other stuff – I might look at that piece of information and enjoy it for a moment – perhaps until the next news bulletin, which sends me running back to my filing cabinet room and sadly, that marvellous sunset gets left on my desk and used as a coaster and I don’t file it. When I get overwhelmed by all that bad news, I have no sense that anything is right with the world – I feel like every single thing has changed and I forget that spectacular sunset and that there is still beauty in my world ….


Research with a group of people on a waiting list for mental health treatment for depression randomly split the group into 4 sub-groups and gave each group a daily activity to do over the duration of their wait for therapy. One group was to write 5 negative things down each day, one group was asked to write down 5 neutral things, another group, 5 positive things and the final group, 5 things they felt grateful for. The mood of the participants was measured before and after the experiment. Unsurprisingly, writing down the negative and neutral things didn’t help anyone. Writing positive things didn’t really have a significant effect either, but the gratitude group did experience a significant improvement in mood…..

How does that work?


Perhaps some other information would be helpful here – did you know that we remember things more easily when we are in the same emotional state again; when we are happy we tend to remember the times we have been happy in the past. We also have an attentional bias, for example if we are in a rush, we notice all the traffic lights are on red and if we do see the green light, it is rather as an exception.


These two features of how we think, mean that when we are low we remember all that information from when we have been low in the past and our attention is drawn to all the stuff that is bad news or working against us. When I then try to record what I am grateful for … that is really tough, because I’m not in that frame of mind and I can’t see any good news. So, I sit, pen in hand and think over my day … what was good? Nothing comes to mind …


Oh yes…. that sunset – so spectacular! - and yes now I remember that when I sent that picture to my friend she sent me a picture of the sun set from her house … I’m grateful to have a friend that I can share with. Then next day I notice my gratitude list on my bedside table and smile …. Now I am looking for things I can write down throughout my day – and guess what? because I’m now looking for things to be grateful for, my brain helps me to notice those green traffic lights as I sail through them on my journey … Oh yes, and the kind person who let me have their space in the queue. Because I’m writing them down I am now filing them in that filing room in my brain ….. I have a grateful cabinet and as I think about these things, I feel grateful for, I feel???


And as I watch the news – I still hear the death toll and the stretched services but I also see the hard work of the nurses and see their compassion and I see that person, recovering from covid, tell me that they were scared they would die but they have pulled through and they are grateful …. And I feel?


And this makes me think: there are some terrible things happening at the moment but actually I still have a lot to be grateful for….




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