A season of gratitude

By Paula Frappier

In this season of thankfulness and gratitude, I spoke with Chaplain Ram Kalap of the Homewood Health Centre.  

Kalap supports people in all of Homewood’s programs to explore and connect with their spiritual side in order to improve their mental health. I asked Kalap how being grateful can have an effect on our mental wellness. 

He said that when we shift our thinking from concentrating on what we don’t have and change our focus to appreciating what we do have, it can have a profound impact on our anxiety levels and mood.

When we focus on how we feel limited due to circumstances in our lives or the things and possessions we don’t have, we can feel let down and ungrateful, which in turn can lead to depressive feelings. Continually focusing on possessions and things that may not materialize for us, erodes gratitude. 

It can evolve into a self-fulfilling prophecy where people start to feel that they are not worthy or don’t deserve success or happiness.

A vicious cycle occurs when people obsess and dwell on what they don’t have, feeling helpless and unfulfilled as though they can’t change. When items and happiness elude them, they may start to feel that this is just how it goes for them: there is no goodness in the world. This can be a pervasive thought in depression.

If we strive to appreciate what we do have, what often comes to light is thankfulness for the people and relationships around us.  Focusing on positivity can make us feel worthy and help us to understand that there is good in the world and all around us. The importance of gratitude is that it can help us discover positive aspects of our lives and help us to build and maintain relationships with others that give us hope and improve our life satisfaction. 

Gratitude is not only the quality of being thankful, it is also the readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Practiced over time this may become a positive character trait.

Kalap shared that he uses work developed by Dr. Robert Emmons, an expert on gratitude, when he is supporting people to start to focus on positives in their lives. He states that gratitude has two stages:

– acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life; and

– recognizing the source of goodness outside of ourselves.

This leads to a universal sense of wellbeing and connectedness that helps relieve some feelings of anxiety, and certainly can help to improve one’s outlook in times of depression.  

When it is difficult to feel a sense of gratitude Kalap encourages us to take the step of setting aside a few moments daily to think of a person who did a kindness for you, someone you would thank, or who you might smile with.  

Sometimes through our lives and in times of struggle, possessions and health are seen as expectations and when they elude us people can become resentful and negative.  When these thoughts are pervasive in our day to day we see the world and people around us in a negative way. It can be hard to break free of these dark thoughts.  The practice of intentionally thinking of and focusing on our personal gifts and appreciating life from where we stand can help.

Kalap encourages this daily practice of paying attention to the goodness around us because over time a daily routine becomes a habit and eventually a lifestyle where the feelings of gratitude become a part of who you are and may improve your life satisfaction.

Kalap equates this to physical fitness. The more you use your muscles the stronger they become.  Gratitude can work the same way. When you practice gratitude daily you improve the celebration of you and the gifts in your life come to light.

What are you grateful for?

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Paula Frappier is a geropsychiatry community education coordinator and occupational therapist at Homewood Health Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.