World Gratitude Day - Finding Sanctuary in "Enough"

Nicole Dunn

During one of my most personally challenging semesters at school, a peer encouraged me to reflect on things that I was thankful for. With this in mind, I started a “3 good things jar,” where before bed each night I would write down three things that I was grateful for that day and place it in the jar. At first these lists included small and seemingly insignificant activities like “prepared lunches for the week,” “went to class,” and “called my Vovo.” But over time, this exercise became more detailed, as I began to acknowledge that my smallest "enoughs" held much to be grateful for. Things like “the girl who smiled and said thanks when I picked up her books that fell,” “the very snowy snowstorms this week,” and “working an extra late-night shift and feeling loopy with friends” started to show up. This task quickly became a ritual, and soon I had a jar filled with confetti positives. I was even excited for my bed time ritual because some nights I had way more than three things to write down. It’s true that motivating myself to not just think about what I was grateful for, but also have the intention to write it down, took some effort. And yes, some nights I would crash before the list was possible. But overall this task has always made me experience more joy. I didn’t know it then, but I was doing a little more than being thankful, I was practicing gratitude.

Historically we know that practicing gratitude has been situated within various world religions. Only within the last few decades has this topic gathered research interest. So far, the academic investigation of gratitude has primarily focused on understanding the short term psychological interventions, but even these limited studies show promising results. In one early study, researchers found evidence that making gratitude lists helps us acknowledge “small wins”– powerful reminders that good things can come in small packages [1]. In another study, individuals were asked to make lists of things that have been going well for them every day for one week. This group was then compared to a control group asked to write down lists about early memories. The “going-well” group reported an increase in their levels of happiness [2]. Consistent with these findings, a third study found that individuals who spent time writing about the positive things that happened in their day experienced improved mental and physical well-being at a three-week follow up [3]. These findings are exciting and, more importantly, accessible.

As a Research Assistant on The Beacon Study I feel compelled to ask, “How might the power of gratitude be harnessed to support individuals living with thoughts of suicide?” To date there is some preliminary research in this field. In one study researchers found that among college students, high levels of gratitude and grit at baseline characterized individuals who would later report the greatest reduction in suicidal ideation over time [4]. In another study concerning adolescents, researchers found that gratitude was uniquely associated with suicidality. Specifically, the authors found that suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among this population were lower among adolescents who scored higher on measures of gratitude [5]. Fortunately, no one person has any fixed amount of gratitude. It is something that can be practiced to reframe how we conceptualize our world. This means that through the use of gratitude exercises, it is possible to foster meaning, and by extension, resilience in the face of obstacles.

In keeping with this logic, one of the features in the Beacon smartphone application includes a journal function where many of the prompts centre on encouraging participants to reflect on aspects of their lives that they are grateful for. For example, some of these prompts include:

·         “One way I can be thankful for the challenges I’ve experienced are…”,

·         “One thing I appreciate is…”,

·         “I can say thank you more by…”, and

·         “One thing I am taking for granted that I am actually grateful for is…”

Our hope is that access to these prompts will support participants in building up their resiliency tool box, and continue to find meaning in their activities of daily living.

If you’re looking to start practicing gratitude or want some new exercises, a quick search on Google brought up a host of ideas for me. Listed below is a link that provides “40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.”[6] From this document, a new practice that particularly interests me is “Include an act of kindness in your life each day.”

With all of this in mind, it seems only appropriate that on World Gratitude Day I make some space to reflect on what I’m grateful for. So, without further ado:

1.      I am grateful for being able to research suicide, an important and challenging public health issue that deserves attention.

2.      I am thankful to have supportive friends, family, and colleagues who make room for tough conversations and emotions to exist without judgement.

3.      I appreciate that my cozy bed is waiting for me at the end of each day.

“‘Enough’ is a feast.” – Buddhist Proverb

References

[1] Weick, K. E. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39, 40-49.

[2] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421.

[3] Bono, J. E., Glomb, T. M., Shen, W., et al. (2013). Building positive resources: Effects of positive events and positive reflection on work stress and health. Academy of Management Journal, 56, 1602-1627.

[4] Kleinman, E. M., Adams, L. M., Kashdan, T. B., & Riskind, J. H. (2013). Gratitude and grit indirectly reduce risk of suicidal ideations by enhancing meaning in life: Evidence for a mediated moderation model. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 539-546.

[5] Li, D., Zhang, W., Li, X., Li, N., & Ye, B. (2012). Gratitude and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among Chinese adolescents: Direct, mediated, and moderated effects. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 55-66.

[6] Conlon, C. (2014, March 6). 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/40-simple-ways-practice-gratitude.html

Gratitude.jpg
The Hatching Ideas blog contains discussions of mental health, suicide, social vulnerability and other, similar topics. The topics discussed may prompt unwelcome reminders, and we ask our readers to exercise discretion when reading. In case of an emergency, please contact your local health provider or dial emergency medical services (9-1-1).