Please Pass the Cliché
Rosanne McDaniel, EdS, LPC, LADC
Laureate Eating Disorders Program
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I find myself gravitating toward the concept of gratitude. Although somewhat of a cliché this time of year, the science and development of gratitude is intriguing and useful through all of life’s many seasons — quite fascinatingly as a method for reducing symptoms of depression and improving mood.
Although an oversimplification, depression is often described as a cycle or spiral. My intent is not to imply that depression is a choice, but often symptoms become habitual in nature and difficult to interrupt. Although altering habits might be one of many pieces to a solution, these changes can be helpful in interrupting the cycle of depression.
Author, philanthropist and general Renaissance man John Lubbock wrote, “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” This is a compact way of explaining the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, otherwise known as frequency illusion. Most of us are familiar with this concept, even though we may not know it by name. Think about your most recent car purchase. When you were researching this vehicle or shortly after its purchase, did you notice similar models everywhere? I can’t even count the number of times I’ve confidently attempted to get into a car similar to mine. Although it seems like they are more prevalent, it is likely better explained by our attention or focus. As another example, think of the last time you were running late to an engagement. Did it feel like you hit every red light? Again, this is likely because of our focus.
Our brains, in general, tend to focus more on negative experiences than positive ones, even without depression. Anaïs Nin is often attributed to the quote, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” If someone feels more sad or depressed, regardless of whether depression is clinically diagnosed, it is plausible they will develop a more pessimistic outlook and increased attention toward the negative.
Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful” and can combat negativity. Because it is a state of mind, gratitude doesn’t depend on one’s circumstances. There are many studies that demonstrate the benefits of gratitude. Again, it may not be the cure for depression, but gratitude has been shown to improve mood and may positively impact overall health. It can interrupt the negative spiral of depression and create a more positive cycle. Gratitude as a habit can contribute toward a more optimistic outlook.
How does gratitude, then, become a habit? As previously stated, our brains tend to respond more strongly to negative experiences, so creating a Please Pass the Cliché Rosanne McDaniel, EdS, LPC, LADC Therapist, Laureate Eating Disorders Program habit of gratitude starts with intentional focus. Perhaps it starts with identifying something you are grateful for each day. People will certainly be in good gratitude company this time of year. Some helpful tips for starting a gratitude practice include:
• Starting the day identifying something you are looking forward to, or ending the day reflecting on something for which you are thankful.
• Creating a gratitude journal.
• Being intentional about identifying something you are thankful for within frustrating circumstances.
When feeling particularly discouraged by the weather, a job or any other situation, finding gratitude for nature, gratitude for food, gratitude within relationships— the possibilities are limitless.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t necessarily mean circumstances will change, but because gratitude is a state of mind, it can improve your ability to deal with difficult circumstances. I believe intentionality about gratitude in specific areas increases gratitude overall, which can contribute greatly toward a shift in mood.
Cliché or not, why not consider establishing this habit as we approach Thanksgiving? I challenge you, however, to continue to develop gratitude as a practice in your daily life even beyond the holidays.