‘Tis the season of remembrance, reflection, and gratitude | See. Be. Do.

Here’s how I stay focused on gratitude.

A study conducted in 2016 out of the University of Rome, Department of Psychology, focused on the impacts of gratitude on depression and anxiety symptoms in the general population. The study displayed strong associations of being grateful and a demonstration of “more fulfilling, meaningful relationships” (Petrocchi, N., & Couyoumdjian, A., 2016).

There have been many other studies conducted using similar methodologies of association demonstrating the power of living a life of gratitude. As a researcher and educator, I have always read of the benefits and thought about the impacts of living a life of gratitude and I have always felt that my focus was one of gratitude. What I realized and have reflected on over this past year and a half is that choosing to have a focus of gratitude is not as simple as it seems, and it is more than a feeling. There is a commitment and dedication in the choice to focus on being and living a grateful life.

The fall and winter seasons are the entry way into family dinners, traditions, and holiday celebrations. These seasons for some can be joyful and a time of remembrance, reflection, and gratitude. Likewise, these seasons can also be difficult for those who have lost loved ones or are facing challenging life situations. In the transition of these seasons, I find myself needing to make a decision to either focus on gratitude or be consumed by my feelings. Choosing a focus on gratitude rather than choosing my feelings brings long-term fulfillment and enjoyment regardless of the challenges and/or circumstances I am facing. I also acknowledge that choosing to focus on gratitude rather than sulk in my feelings is easier written than demonstrated.

For example, as a December baby, it has been a long-held personal preference (a feeling) that holiday lights and/or decorations for Christmas should not be put up in our house until after my birthday. This personal preference has mostly been based on a “feeling” that if Christmas lights and decorations go up before my birthday, I am less likely to be celebrated or appreciated. That feeling has lingered and even grown over the years. I believe that a contributing part of this feeling is rooted in adverse childhood experiences (The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child defines adverse childhood experiences as physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and/or household violence.)

As the baby of the family, the feeling of being last, seen as secondary to my eldest siblings, or just feeling neglected and insignificant have always loomed over me. As I grew older other emotionally and physically damaging situations contributed to this weight of adversity. I wasn’t sure if the weight would ever be lifted. Over the last decade of my life, my journey has been filled with remembrance, reflection and sometimes gratitude. The choice to be grateful has not come easy for me. Even so, I know that without these adverse events, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For this I remain and choose gratitude.

This choice of focus on gratitude has been a gift greater than I can have ever imagined. In this season of 2021, I am grateful for the remembrance and reflection on my personal struggles, the hurts, the pain, the very events that have placed my heart in the pit of many fires. And, in this gratitude, I am learning my response. My response has been learning to bridge the place between hurt and heart.

One of my most favorite scriptures is in Proverbs. It says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

I have been heavy on guarding my heart in 2021. I believe that having a focus of gratitude begins in the heart. My experiences have taught me that my heart is a gateway into my mind, body, and soul. And, if I have decided in my heart that I am grateful, my actions and words will match that gratefulness. Likewise, if I choose to focus on the hurt, pain, troubles, feeling, my words and actions will be ones that inflict the very same. Which I can honestly say, I have done both a lot, especially in this past year.

So how do I stay focused on gratitude? I have a few tactics and want to share.

1) I apologize and extend forgiveness. (without expectation of reciprocation)

2) I begin my day with positive thoughts/music/readings.

3) I pause in the moments I feel negativity creeping in. (Breathe deep and repeat step 2)

4) I stay connected to those people who inspire, encourage, and love me.

Over the next month and into this next year, I hope that you are inspired to choose a focus of gratitude. Let your life be the light that someone else is longing for. Be an example, live purposefully, and above all else choose a heart of gratitude. Let us, the people of this great nation, be the bridge between hurt and heart. Let us choose a focus of gratitude.