Expressing gratitude isn’t just for a single day of the year in November. It’s something that should be part of everyday life and can be an important part of people’s emotional health.
Gratitude can be a tough concept to define, said Tracey Sutton, Family Support Services clinical supervisor at Heritage Health.
“An individual needs to recognize that something positive has happened,” she said. “It’s an action. It’s not being grateful.”
Gratitude can have an impact on people’s emotional and physical health, Sutton said.
“Our mind is an incredible tool,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that what we look for, we will find. Gratitude is the social glue, if you will, of our species.”
Rev. Rodney Wright of Lake City Church said he sees a large self-benefit in gratitude.
“It’s focusing on the positive things in life,” he said. “A lot of time that gratitude can lift us out of depression or keep us from focusing on what isn’t going right. It does a lot for our own disposition and our own well-being and health.”
Wright said he tells people to use meditation or centering prayer to be silent and allow gratitude to come forward. Being grateful is not just about being thankful for material things, but being thankful for people and relationships, he said. It’s also an important way to project love and care to others.
“It has to do with the heart and relationships, healthy relationships,” he said. “I think it’s an important part of just living from a place of being grateful. I think gratitude begets gratitude.”
Gratitude is an important part of living an other-centered life rather than a self-centered one, Wright said.
“When we practice gratitude we find ourselves more generous with our love and our time,” he said.
Wright said he recommends writing down a list of things you are grateful for and reflecting on it. “It can have a real positive effect on you.”
Sutton said searching for things to be grateful for is not just for those that are struggling with some aspect of their lives. She recommends that people keep a gratitude journal as a way to reflect.
“I tell my clients all the time to just pause and make an instant into a moment,” she said.
Sutton received a gratitude journal for Christmas last year and said she uses it every day.
“I write every morning, not even a sentence sometimes,” she said. “There are times when it’s a miniscule thing, whether it’s the look my dog gives me when I wake her up and she looks like I’m the most important thing in the world.”
Sutton uses colored pens to write in her journal and has been faithful in her entries, short though they may be.
“It is a practice,” she said. “It needs to be done repeatedly. It’s part of my morning routine.”
It’s a routine she plans to continue with a new journal in January to mark the start of a new year.
“It’s become a practice that is a great benefit to me,” she said.
Gratitude is something that Kootenai County Drug Court Coordinator Tonya Reynolds sees all the time in her work. She screens cases to see if people are eligible for the drug court program, which brings treatment into the court process, and compiles monthly progress reports on all the participants.
“It’s a very accountability driven program,” Reynolds said. “It’s just a very intense program with a lot of wrap around services. It’s not just about staying clean and sober. It’s about changing thinking and behaviors.”
As participants make progress, she sees them being grateful for getting their old lives and families back. Drug users frequently burn bridges with their families and reuniting with them is an important part of the healing process, she said.
“I think as they get some clean time under their belt and mend their family relationships, that’s where I see gratitude,” she said. “That’s what we hear, over and over again. ’I’m so thankful for my family.’”
Many participants say they are grateful just to be alive and not dead of an overdose, Reynolds said.
“By the time they graduate, we have a lot of people say they’re grateful for the program,” she said. “There’s a lot to be grateful for. I think it’s an important component.”