The power of gratitude

There have been times in my life when I have found it next to impossible to be happy. Dark lonely days, where smiles and hugs from family members failed to penetrate my blanket of despair.  A pervading sense of disconnection, apathy and complete inability to experience gratitude….

Yup, that was me.  I’ve suffered from depression and I’m ok writing and talking about it.

I know I’m not alone.

Depression is the third largest individual health problem in Australia after heart disease
and stroke. (ref)

1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of depression during their life. (ref)

Each year, approximately 1,000,000 adults and 100,000 young people in Australia experience a depressive illness. More than 50% will not seek treatment. (ref)

For me, one of the most challenging facets of this illness is the fact that there are many people who would prefer not to hear about it, or acknowledge it as a real illness.  Depression may not be as taboo as it was twenty years ago but “mental illness” of any sort is still stigmatized.

How bad does it feel when you attempt to share your pain, only to be told over
and over -

You’ll be ok, you just have to try harder.

Don’t cry – we don’t have to talk about it anymore, ok?

Come on, snap out of it! Think about how this might be affecting your babies!

Helpful, no.  Hurtful, yes.  Understandable?  Yeah, I get it.  If you’re depressed, you are a definite fun-assassin!

But that was then and this is now.  That part of me has faded into the background and a newer version emerged – genuinely smiling, appreciative and happy.

Most of the time.

So what if that black dog comes round for another visit!  I’m far more resourceful and resilient now and the knowledge that I have beaten depression before is both comforting and empowering.

 

The power of gratitude

Believe it or not, expressing gratitude on a daily basis was one of the most effective weapons in my arsenal for defeating depression.

I was fortunate that even in my most depressed state – I never gave up. I knew that I could fight my way back to wellness even when the actual experience of being happy seemed as far away as the moon.

I took to recording my ugliest thoughts and fears on paper, in a hopeful effort to have them disintegrate into the harried scrawls of ink.

I also began a daily gratitude journal.  Maybe I couldn’t feel those sunshine thoughts, but surely I could find a few things to be grateful for?

Writing one or two sentences every day was something I knew I could commit to.

Some days it was being thankful for nothing more than a great cup of coffee or a two-hour stint of uninterrupted sleep.  Other days, observing the melodic babbling of my babies or the stoic way my Canadian family braved the brutal winter elements; were enough to keep my feet planted in the realm of possibility.

I also noticed that the act of recording gratitude accumulated to the point where I could soon find five things instead of just one to be genuinely thankful for.  My list began to grow and flow with ease and eventually I started to feel the gratitude rather than just write about it.

After six months of committing to this practice and combined with counselling, exercise, medication and the loving support of a few family members and friends – I was able to reclaim my passion for life.  Damn, it felt good!

I’m not saying that this daily practice of being grateful was a cure for my depression but I do believe it was a crucial factor for recovery.

How can gratitude increase happiness?              

The power of gratitude and its positive effect on mood and well-being has been widely documented (see here).

Being grateful moves your focus from a mindset of scarcity to abundance.

Appreciating and noticing the small blessings leads to a focal point of more – more positive things to take note of and a heightened awareness of the miniscule details that bring pleasure.

Moreover, like many habits – the longer you do it, the easier it becomes and the more powerful the effects can be.  Gratitude helps you maintain a more positive outlook and contributes to emotional well-being.

It also has social benefits – we all prefer to hang with positive people, right?

Creating an atmosphere of gratitude in your home

It can be challenging trying to instill an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in your home.   Children are notoriously self-centred and unappreciative, particularly when it comes to their own family members.

I have found that the most effective way to increase an appreciative atmosphere is to model the behavior.  Children get annoyed when you constantly tell them to thank every person they meet but if they notice you always make a point of giving thanks when called for, they are sure to follow suit…eventually.

Writing small notes or sending emails of Thanks in a timely manner is also an effective way to teach gratitude.  Thanking
Grandma on Skype for a birthday gift, or writing a note to a teacher for a fun lesson well taught are recent examples of gratitude my girls have initiated.

Nature provides endless opportunities and spectacles for inquisitive minds to marvel at. A rainbow or butterfly on your walk to the park.  Eating lush tropical fruit on a hot summer’s day.   Observing natures gifts together is not only fun for kids but also reminds us big kids to take note of the things that we so often take for granted due to years of familiarity.

My favourite, most effective display of appreciation in our household is the ‘Gratitude Prayer’.

We take turns at dinner time to have a prayer of gratitude – a practice that the girls enjoy and add their own flavour to -

I’m thankful that my hair was pretty today and I got to see ‘Barbie in a Fashion Fairytale’.

I really liked the chocolate easter egg I ate and I hope I get some more tomorrow.

Every now and then they also delight with their thoughtfulness and an inkling that they are beginning to grasp the power of gratitude-

Thank you for my daddy who works so hard….my sister who is an angel from the sky cos she plays with me at school…. and my uncle who I miss lots and lots.

That’s it from me today.

Let me know in the comments how you like to ‘get your grateful on’?

~Kirri

Comments

  1. Really powerful post, thnx. I guess there is so much depression over there because you keep losing the ashes to us and with the rugby world cup coming up, much to be despondent about…:)

    But seriously, a sobering thought in any country and a wonderfully personal and sensitive handling, Kirri, well done.

    I really like the gratitude approach.

    –Terry

    • Why is it that Brits must always turn anything into an opportunity to harp on about winning any sport at any time? Could it be because it is such a rare occurence?!
      Ashes *yawn*, Rugby *zzzzz*

      I am very grateful for your ongoing support though…seriously :)

  2. Ooh I love this! I am definitely going to try that gratitude thing with my little ones.
    I am familiar with depression myself. Although I still don’t understand why there is such a stigma attached to it??
    If you have the flu, you take antibiotics.
    If you have a headache, you take a panadol.
    Why is it so difficult for some people to take anti depressants when they are feeling unwell?
    Even if taking medication for it, isn’t an option – why is going to talk to a professional about it so unnerving a concept?
    Depression can be debilitating! Mental health is just as important as physical well being. They go hand in hand.
    I am a big advocate for looking after yourself when the black dog pays a visit.
    Thanks for sharing your story x

    • Romina ~ The gratitude prayer at the dinner table is now one of my fave parts of the day. Sometimes, dinner gets cold as all my girls love to hog the lime-light but it’s fun and im my opinion, worthwhile.

      For me, as a sufferer of depression and with a background in psychology, it is sometimes difficult not to ‘judge’. I know many people who live with depression and that does not skew my opinion of them at all (although sometimes I wish they would be more open about it). Yet, for myself, it is all too easy to feel like I have failed, that I should be able to handle things better, be more resilient and just ‘snap out of it’. It took my third bout of depression to accept medication as somewhere deep down, I felt it was the easy way out….Interesting that I should be looking for a difficult way out (!) but I was very fortunate in that meds helped me get back on the path to recovery.

      I still think medication is over-prescribed and I prefer prevention over cure but if I ever get to the point of despair again…Imma taking that medication!

  3. Great post Kirri! you really are not alone in your feelings and I love that you are focusing on gratitude and happiness so much more now. Love that you are passing those skills on to your cherubs. Naomi x

    • Naomi…so happy to see you here! It always helps to hear that you are not alone. This was a challenging post for me to write *exposed* but also therapeutic.
      Getting engaged in your happiness project has strengthened my resolve to keep the daily practice of recording happy thoughts and gratitude
      ~Thanks!

  4. Hey Kirri,

    I’m so with you on this one. It’s amazing how being grateful for the smallest things can change your perspective!
    I’ve just added a page to my blog for my gratitude journal coz I found it’s easier to type something out on the computer than to find a quiet moment to do some “real” writing on paper.
    I can relate to the power that gratitude has, just wish that I remembered it more often. I think we’ll have to start having a prayer of gratitude around the table with my family. It’s a lovely idea.
    Thanks for your insights :-)

    • Hi sarah. Thanks for your insights and for giving me another place to now visit in the pursuit of gratitude and happiness!
      It is such a small thing yet can lead to big changes in perspective and like many ‘good’ habits, you have to make it a regular practice to maintain the benefits.
      Adding a page to your blog…now you have to keep it up hey…that’s good stuff!

  5. Thats so true. Appreciatingthe small things educates us to take pleasure from the bigger picture

  6. What I am most grateful for is you! For you to be the mother of my grandchildren makes me so happy. Your kindness, sharing, intelligence and endearing qualities will forever be instilled in the girls.
    Sam

  7. Added a link to your blog

  8. Gratitude is soooo powerful and highly underestimated and underused. I know that when the shit is hitting the fan in my life that I can always turn to the thought that there is someone worse off than me. Just that alone turns my thoughts to gratitude.
    An image that has never left me was of a man begging on the beaches of Nha TRang Vietnam. He had no arms and legs and was shuffling around on his pelvis holding out a canvas bag for coins. He is always a reminder to me of how lucky I am.
    I have a post coming out next week where I go on a semi rant about this topic. I recently had someone tell me they thought gratitude was overdone and too touchy-feely. I am grateful that I understand its power. Well done to you for being able to overcome your challenges!

    • Hi Mojito Momma – Thanks for visiting me!

      Our perspective and attitude are such powerfool tools for enriching our lives and the lives of those around us.

      Heres to overdone and touchy-feely!
      I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.

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