By: Taylor A. Moss, M.S., LMFTA, NIC
In my life this looks like a lot of direct communication, analysis, planning. I plan for what I think will happen, not what I hope will happen or fear might occur. If I am wrong I adjust my understanding of the situation and plan accordingly for next time.
I see this as a strength. For example, on our annual trip to the east coast for Thanksgiving with my husband, I am typically the one who sets our itinerary and keeps track of time. This year, we planned to tour the historic city of Plymouth, Massachusetts. On the day of the trip we left late. On our drive out of the city it started raining. When we arrived in town it was pouring. Frustrated, I recognized my idyllic picture of us enjoying the quaint coastal town under the warm glow of the autumn sun was, while not ruined, definitely not going to be as comfortable. The realist in me accepted the circumstances, while still wishing for a clear day.
I was most definitely not thankful for the change in plans. I had a vision and knew what our day could have been. Yet as a counselor, I have read an abundance of articles about how gratitude is good for us. I knew that a change in perspective could change my experience of the day. It made me think about a recent a New York Times article where the author, Arthur C. Brooks, reminds us that, “for many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily”. Yes! Thank you Brooks. Maybe like rain on the day of your historic tour of the town of your ancestors?!
Yet Brooks makes a few key points that put my realism in perspective:
- Choosing to be thankful actually makes us more thankful – when practicing gratitude our brain releases chemicals that make us less stressed, and in turn more thankful. Our brain does not distinguish if this gratitude is overwhelming and robust, or simply a new attempt. All that matters is the act of giving thanks.
- Gratitude impacts those around us – when you interact with others beginning from a place of gratitude, it lowers others’ defenses, makes them more willing to work together, compromise and generally have a more positive conversation.
- Habits of gratitude can start small – Brooks’ encourages his readers to have “interior gratitude, exterior gratitude, and gratitude for useless things”. The last one the most interesting, and yet the least difficult. Being thankful for small aspects of our life – the comfort of a cozy sweater, a warm cup of coffee, a smile from someone on the sidewalk – enables us to see the world through a different lens, and help us see the small ways where we can be thankful more often.
As my husband and I stood in the pouring rain, shoes soaked (wet feet are the worst!) and behind schedule (we won’t see it all!) we walked along the waterfront and saw a covered market. Live music was playing inside and the smell of local food lured us in. We walking around trying local samples, touching soft wool of handmade goods, and watching locals interact with their neighbors. It took us fifteen leisurely minutes to circle the whole market. We walked out and my husband turned to me and said, “Wasn’t that amazing?! Thanks for letting us stop in”. It was quick comment; one he has made a thousand times. This was my moment to start small. So, like Brooks encourages, I decided to “rebel against the emotional ‘authenticity’ that holds me back from bliss”, turned to my husband and said, “You are right, that was amazing. Thanks for encouraging us to go in”. The comment wasn’t quite automatic, it wasn’t quite realistic (shoes still soaked!), but it did help frame the day in a whole new way.
Taylor A. Moss is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate, PREPARE/ENRICH Facilitator, and Certified Sign Language Interpreter in Seattle, WA specializing in premarital and couples counseling, and counseling in sign language. Taylor is grateful that you’re interested in visiting her website, and following her @tam_mft and on Facebook .