“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
— Marcel Proust, French novelist, critic and essayist
“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
— Brian Tracy, self-help author and motivational speaker
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
— Gilbert K. Chesterton, writer
As far as Christie Cairo is concerned, the cultivation of gratitude can start as soon as you slap that snooze button in the morning.
“When we start noticing really how connected we are with anyone that we ever cross — I mean, even if you think about waking up in the morning with your alarm clock, someone made that,” said Cairo, a yoga teacher who lives in Shelby Township. “And you think of getting in your car to go to your job, or go somewhere, and someone made those tires, someone made those brakes. If you get that detailed and that crazy about gratitude, you can really find blessings everywhere in your life.”
Thanksgiving is the traditional time to, well, give thanks. Yet, the very notion seems to suggest that gratitude need not be practiced daily. And for people struggling with depression, anxiety or hardships, that can be difficult, no matter the time of year.
In many cases, people who struggle to find things to give thanks for are clinging to pain because they’re convinced they have the right, said Dr. Carol Van Andel, consultation liaison psychiatrist for Henry Ford Macomb Hospital.
“I think one thing that people seem to forget about often is, it takes a certain amount of determination to do that,” she said. “If you’re stuck in a place where you feel like life’s not fair or you’re lonely or life isn’t good, you have to be willing to give that up, that position.”
Van Andel acknowledged it’s easier said than done.
“They don’t realize they’re making a choice. (But) no behavior continues unless it’s gratifying in some way,” she said. “It’s easy to tell people what to do. It’s the other part — giving up what they feel is their due, that they have the right to feel … angry, to feel bitter, that they are owed something, and they are getting a certain satisfaction from that position — that’s where people have the most trouble.”
Simple ways to steer the mind toward gratitude include doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return, making lists of things and people you appreciate, or finding others with the same struggles with whom you can connect, she said.
Find a “substitute” for that morose feeling, whether it’s a hobby or a volunteer role, and try to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t, Van Andel said.
It’s also important to accept what’s outside of your influence and commit to changing the unhappy circumstances that are within your power, she added.
“Think about the fact that we have so little control over so many things in our lives,” said Van Andel. “One has to tolerate a certain amount of reality. (Think), ‘This is reality,’ and then go from there. ‘What things are within my control?’”
If you can’t seem to get into the proper mindset, it might be time to get your body involved.
Cairo — who teaches yoga at the Macomb Township Recreation Center, Santosha Yoga in Chesterfield Township, Red Lotus Yoga in Rochester Hills and Bodhi Seed Yoga & Wellness Center in Mount Clemens — said the physical practice of moving and breathing has a profound influence on mental well-being.
“Yoga comes from the root word ‘yui’; it means ‘to yoke,’” she explained. “So when we harness energy to connect our body, our mind and our spirit, we can cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude for, first of all, I’m healthy enough to just walk into the room. Finding time to sit and count five deep breaths — I mean, we’re lucky to have that, even. That’s a gift.”
There are options for people of all fitness and health levels, from faster-paced vinyasas to chair yoga to restorative yoga, which involves maintaining poses for longer periods with the assistance of props.
Jot it down
For Warren resident Nick Gerace, zeroing in on what he appreciates involved moving into the digital realm.
Gerace said he isn’t usually lured in by the latest social media crazes, but when Facebook friends began posting daily messages of gratitude in November, he was hooked.
“I never, ever glom onto Facebook games and Facebook trends, and post this and post that, but this one, I thought, was worthy,” he said. “I saw other people doing it … and I thought that it would be good, because it makes you think of things that, when you put it out there, people who are the subject of those thoughts get to hear what you already feel but just weren’t spurred on to say.”
Gerace has expressed gratitude for some abstract concepts, like the struggles that molded him into the person he is today. But mostly, he’s kept his posts people-focused, such as his day-three message about his mother, who raised six kids on a shoestring budget.
“Any good I have done in my life has been the fruit of what she instilled in me with her strength and the faith … she drew her strength from,” he wrote. “Her character always trumped the wandering this heart was prone to. She kept me on the path.”
Even if the subject of the post will never see it, it may cheer someone in a similar situation, said Gerace. For instance, fondly recalling a third-grade teacher may buoy a friend in the same career field through the notion that a student could remember their impact decades later, he said.
Gerace said he’s been asking himself what he would say to the people in his life, if it were their last day on earth and he was giving a speech at their farewell party.
“When you say those things,” he said, “people remember that for the rest of their lives.”