Editorial Cartoonist Marshall Ramsey is a perfect example of someone who understands “advanced gratitude.” He has the ability to identify and appreciate the tough events in his life because of what he has learned from them. Says Ramsey, “A good analogy is if you’re canoeing downstream and you hit a rock, it can either sink you or push you in another direction. If you choose the other direction, it’s a blessing.”
Obviously, people don’t become grateful, while in the middle of a difficult situation. Yet, once through it, time can help to heal the hurt, and with it the ability to heal. One leading expert sees it as a stimulus to the psychological immune system – a way of physically altering the brain so that gratitude isn’t something to be felt occasionally, but a way of approaching life.
It can happen by making a habit of appreciating what you have, what you’ve lost and what your life would be like if fate hadn’t stepped in.
Robert Emmons, PhD, director of the Emmons Laboratory at the University of California, Davis has found in his research that people who created weekly gratitude lists exercised 90 minutes more on average, than a control group who documented their problems. Grateful people had less pain, slept an hour longer, and woke up feeling more refreshed.
If it’s hard coming up with reasons to be grateful, Dr. Emmons says, “Think of your worst moments – your sorrows, your losses, your sadness – and then remember where you are now. You go through the worst day of your life, you got through the trauma, you got through the trial, you’re making your way out of the dark.”
The ability to bounce back after trauma is what psychologists call post-traumatic growth. Richard Tedeschi, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, believes a positive transformation can occur when people go through a serious stress, like a chronic illness, or a disaster. “We’re not talking about people being grateful for the cancer, or the injury, but for what happens in the aftermath, what they’ve gained from struggling through the event.”
Marshall Ramsey admits that after many ordeals he used to feel sorry for himself. But, he also saw a pattern emerging – what had felt like the worst thing eventually turned into something he saw in a positive light. “After getting a cancer diagnosis, I came to appreciate life a lot more. I’ve given my mortality a big old kiss,” he says. Prevention December, 2013