According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 40 million adults in the U.S suffer from anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, including depression, each year. (1) That’s a lot of people! Though with many types of depression, there is a chemical imbalance in the brain that is more successfully treated with medication, I think there is also a more natural way to at least alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression—gratitude. I am not saying that everyone that suffers from depression or anxiety is ungrateful. After all, I am one of the people that struggles with depression and anxiety myself. However, I have found that when I focus more on what I do have, as opposed to what I don’t have, I often find myself more content with life. Not only does gratitude often relieve depressive and anxiety symptoms, but it is also an essential ingredient in enhancing relationships one has with loved ones and the rest of the world. Here’s why:
Gratitude is an essential ingredient in one’s joy. According to many studies, gratitude can also undo negative emotions and enhance one’s joy (2). Gratitude, I think, is not only being content with what one already has, but also being content or making the best of one’s life circumstances. This attitude, I have found, consistently helps me see that things are often not as bad as they could be. One way I have found that works for me in being more grateful is not to compare myself with people that have more than me, but to compare myself with people who are less fortunate than me. For instance, last week, I was very sick, but I still could walk around and get out of bed if necessary. Some of the ways that I saw this situation that helped me get better was a.) I focused on the fact that I had a couple days off work, so I didn’t have to push myself harder than I should. So, I was able to use the time I had off to rest, and not focus so much on the fact that the next time I worked that I had to do so six straight days in a row b.) the fact that I still could get out of bed and be conscious of what was going on around me. There are a few people I know, and many people around the world, who have much difficulty even getting out of bed in the morning! Even in the depths of my short battle with a stomach bug, I still could get out of bed fairly easily. Also, when I was on vacation, we had a breakfast that many of my family were not satisfied with because we had invested a lot, but they felt that they got little return on. However, I decided to focus on the fact that we even got breakfast at all! This attitude helped me a.) Enjoy the food given more and b.) Enjoy the other, more positive aspects of our trip.
Gratitude is, I believe, also an essential ingredient in one’s peace. I have found, in my own experience, and in observing others’ experiences, that gratitude reduces worry and fear significantly. Moreover, it eliminates the motivation for being envious of others. I have shared with you in previous posts, how I was envious of those who were happily married with children and also my brother’s academic success growing up. However, in the past couple years, I have realized that being single and where I am at now career wise, are still evidences of God’s grace upon my life and how far I am able to come despite the obstacles I had to overcome. I also decided to focus on the blessings of the season of life I’m at now, instead of just the negative parts. For instance, instead of dwelling on how lonely single life can get, I now focus on the fact that I have relative freedom to see the people I want, and not have to consult my significant other every time I want to do something. I also can minister to more people that I would probably not be able to much if I were married or in any other type of romantic relationship.
I also find that when I am grateful, my fears and worries tend to fade. For instance, when I get paranoid that certain people will hurt me emotionally, career-wise, or in any other way , I find that when I instead focus on the people that appreciate and care about me, that I don’t think about those “other” people anymore. However, last week, when I was slightly annoyed that one of my managers gave me a tough assignment, someone immediately reminded me that this person gave me a tougher assignment because they had more confidence in me than other associates. When I focused on that, instead of the toughness of the assignment, I had a more merciful and grateful attitude towards this manager.
Gratitude is also an essential ingredient in love. I have found that most relationships that have been strained or destroyed are like that because one or both parties did not value the other person or persons in it. I believe this is most often true in cases where one party is abusing, instead of valuing, the other. Gratitude improves relationships, I believe, because its emphasis is on valuing others and their accomplishments in a personal way. For instance, there were several people at my work that I had trouble seeing eye-to-eye with. However, when I intentionally focused on what they did well and appreciated the good that they did, as opposed to just their faults, I found that my relationships with them significantly improved! An ingredient in gratitude, I believe, that is not often talked about in most religious circles, is validation. One of my good online friends demonstrates this to me almost every time we chat together. Instead of focusing on things that I do wrong or that are wrong, she tries to focus on the positive things that I did and uses language that does not discount me or my experiences. She validates me, and this has helped me to have hope that more people will understand me better and not to lose hope in humanity. Another essential ingredient in gratitude and love, is valuing the time we have with those that love and care for us. When my one aunt sacrificed her time and her energy just so she could spend time with and accommodate us, even though she was very sick at the time, I found that I valued her presence and time more because of her sacrifices that she made on behalf of my family and me.
As one can see, gratitude is an essential ingredient in joy, peace, and love. I was not always a grateful person. In fact, in the past, I used to gripe about anything and everything that didn’t go my way and focus on those things, and overlooking any blessings that were given to me. However, in June 2014, my gallbladder (for more on this story, see this link) almost burst, since it was twice the size it should have been and inflamed. Thankfully, the gallbladder was taken out before anything serious happened to me. However, it was only three years later, while relating this story to a co-worker, and she said, “You could have died!,” that I realized the value of my life and all that I have been blessed with by God and others. Don’t let a potentially fatal experience like mine be your wake-up call to the importance of gratitude. Be thankful today. Therefore, when you are content with what you have and strive to make the best of every situation, you will eventually have more joy, peace, and love in your life and in your relationships with others.
1) Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2017).Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.
2) Greenberg, Melanie, Ph.D, (November 12, 2015). How Gratitude Leads to a Happier Life. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201511/how-gratitude-leads-happier-life.