Cultivate Gratitude During a Crisis

There are strategies for cultivating gratitude -- even during times of epic disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. With practice, even under the most difficult circumstances, the ability to be appreciative will strengthen you.
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How do we feel grateful in the aftermath of devastation? Hurricane Sandy came hurling to the Northeast region leaving relentless flooding, loss of power for millions, billions of dollars in damaged homes and businesses, and lost lives. But so many that have faced the ravages of Sandy have also been blessed by the loving kindness of others The truth is our lives are composed of a constellation of complicated feelings and they come bubbling forth at a time like this, even if we were among the lucky to get through the "super-storm" relatively unscathed.

Regardless of how we fared, it behooves us to find our way to cultivate and strengthen our capacity to feel grateful. Gratitude is a basic human emotion that is about our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. According to leading gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons, the idea of receiving a gift is central to the experience of gratitude. When we feel deeply grateful, one of the gifts we might feel like we are receiving is that of unconditional love.

Using the simple "thank you" is a way of recognizing or honoring each other. As in the movie Avatar, the meta-message of the phrase "I see you." is that you matter and we are connected. When a connection is made, both the giver and receiver feel valued and visible. Showing appreciation acknowledges another human being and honors the interrelationship between "I" and "thou."

Some of us find it difficult to be thankful, especially while in the throes of personal loss and life challenges. During the most traumatic phase of any loss or tragedy is exactly when we need to tune into each other for support, connection, and unconditional love, whether it is with loved ones or strangers.

The research shows that gratitude is a quality that can be cultivated with consistent practice. Gratitude is one of the secrets to health, happiness, and successful relationships. In a way we honor ourselves by appreciating others, because we all create the greater whole.

Although there are scattered stories of looting and acts of selfishness in the news, the vast majority of people from around the country have united in their effort to help each other during this epic disaster. The best news is that expressed gratitude tends to be contagious, creating a ripple effect of kindness and hope.

Our days rarely go according to plan or without unexpected challenges. The ability to appreciate the good is a special gift that some of us have. Others need to cultivate a sense of appreciation to transform our day-to-day lives.

There are strategies for cultivating gratitude -- even during this epic disaster. With practice, even under the most difficult circumstances, the ability to be appreciative will strengthen you.

How to Cultivate Gratitude During a Time of Crisis

  • Focus on taking care of today, and notice small but potent pleasures -- a helping hand, a warm cup of coffee, a cozy blanket, clean water.

  • Consider saying "thank you" to everyone who has helped you or added value to your life during this time of loss and transition -- as well as during uneventful times. Notice what happens when you thank someone wholeheartedly.
  • Keep a gratitude journal to systematically access those aspects of our lives for which we feel thankful. This is a great time to be doing just that. This practice "fires up" our brain to be more positive. Rather than focusing on the losses and setbacks that we invariably experience, we train our minds to tease out the sweetness of our days and notice more about the good.
  • Count your blessings. Just before going to sleep, think of 3-5 positive feelings or observations that occurred during the day for which you feel grateful.
  • Begin to train your brain to recognize and take in the good by changing your negative thoughts to positive ones with the use of affirmations. These are simple, positive statements like, "I can do this!" Keep repeating these until the message becomes more sticky. You will then be better positioned to savor the good things.
  • If possible, help others in need. By giving your time and assistance to others in greater need than you, you will become more appreciative of your blessings. Helping others is beneficial to the giver and receiver.
  • Pray or thank your higher power if that is something you resonate with.
  • Some of the Benefits of Gratitude Journal Writing

    Practicing some or all of these strategies during normal times or times of devastation have the power to transform your life in a positive way. Cultivating your gratitude quotient shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Research shows that giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient as it improves feelings of well-being, and reduces stress.

    As you move through the reentry process and rebuilding -- there is no better time than today to begin your practice of gratitude.

    My thoughts and prayers are with all affected by Hurricane Sandy as you begin your journey to recovery.

    For more by Randy Kamen Gredinger, Ed.D, click here.

    For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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