Mental Health: Embracing an Attitude of Gratitude
Updated: Jun 13
As a mental health professional I often find that clients enter therapy with me almost fixated on what's not going well in their lives--their challenges, frustrations and those facets of their lives, which they wish were different. I think sometimes--especially during periods of distress--we sometimes get ourselves caught up in the trap of being ultra-aware of "what's wrong" in our lives and lose sight of those aspects of our everyday lives, which are in fact working well. It can be all too easy to neglect attention to our strengths, challenges we've overcome and ways, in which we've been able to enrich and improve the lives of those around us (one doesn't need to be a mental health counselor to have a positive effect on the life of another).
I think of this almost as a sort of confirmation bias: we fixate upon what's not working and almost unwittingly search for evidence supporting our assumptions. Assumptions can--and often are--erroneous. Frankly, we sometimes tell ourselves things about our life situations, that just aren't based in reality. Consider for example another person giving us positive feedback in a love relationship or about our workplace performance. We might unintentionally downplay or discount this--"it's not that big a deal" or "they're just saying that to be nice." But what if the feedback we receive might actually be legitimate?
I watched news coverage of the Platinum Jubilee this past week of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and felt particularly emotionally touched (I think I actually began crying a bit) when I saw Her Majesty at ninety-six years of age, standing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with what appeared to be millions of people there to celebrate her life and accomplishments as Monarch. What must she have been thinking, seeing all of those people there to pay their respects? No matter one's opinion of the Queen, it made me consider whether she actually believed after seventy years as Britain's reigning Monarch that the public really adored her or were just there to keep up appearances. I think, had it been me standing there seeing such an enormous crowd of people cheering for me, I would have felt so overcome with emotion that I would have had no choice but to burst into tears at feeling so touched.
One behavior, in which I often see clients engaging when they first enter therapy is the tendency to self-derogate. They put themselves down, make comments about how "no one cares" about them and are just generally so mired down in feelings of self-loathing that they lose sight of the fact that others have at some point in their lives attempted in some way to validate them. I always ask the question when I hear this, "What would you say to someone else, who had done X, Y and Z but still believed that they were in some way substandard? Would you tell them that, 'you're right--you're totally worthless?'" The response is almost always the same--"Of course not." Well, what makes us so different that we would be less deserving than anyone else of validation? How do we know that others are just bullshitting us and that they don't really mean the positive things they tell us? I imagine that each of us doesn't exactly have some secret network of conspirators, who meet via Zoom meeting every morning to collectively decide how they are going to bullshit us today.
I would encourage each and every one of you to consider writing down a list of those things in our lives, which are going well, and positive feedback we've received from others at various points in our lives and to regularly refer back to it when we begin fixating on the negative and contributing to our own upsetness. Think of it as a sort of daily affirmation based in reality (because frankly many of us too often fixate on the negative and downplay or minimize the positive--insisting to ourselves that it "doesn't count" in some way or another.
Maintain an attitude of gratitude, and everyday stressors tend to take on less meaning; we tend to then remind ourselves that we do have the ability to cope, that we are worthwhile and that others really do care and love us.
If you find yourself struggling to keep this at the forefront of your attention, I would be privileged to talk with you more about it. Feel free to visit me online, and we can arrange a time to talk more about how to get you back on track to recognizing the majesty of your own existence.