Written by: Kathleen Kelley, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
After my father died, I was reading about grief. I read something like, “Have gratitude for having known him. Have gratitude for the love. If you had never loved him, it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
Here is what I thought, at the time, “@#$$ O$$...I do NOT feel grateful RIGHT NOW.”
That was in 1990.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 33 years.
What I’ve learned about gratitude
The grief never “goes away” and it doesn’t shrink. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.
And sometimes, I can muster gratitude.
The Sanskrit word for gratitude is kritajna – meaning, “A state which is consciously chosen or created that results from being fully present.”
Yes, gratitude is a choice, not always an easy choice, but a choice.
Here’s how it is for me…the grief has never gone away and sometimes it feels even bigger…like when my daughters were born or when I got divorced. Times when I so wanted him to be with me.
But, the things in my life that I’m grateful for have grown around the grief, creating a buffer.
Like when a beautiful forest grows around an engine block. The engine block, that thing will never die (especially if it’s a Chevy 😊). But the forest grows anyway. Trees, grass, flowers and even weeds. Regardless of this thing right in the middle.
That’s how gratitude is. It will grow if you give it some time, a bit of attention and love.
What I’m grateful for
I’m so grateful for having my dad, even for the short time he was in my life. I’m grateful for everything he taught me. I’m grateful for Red Sox games on AM radio, fly-fishing, afternoon naps, CB radio and driving lessons.
I’m also grateful for: my amazing children, the best friends a girl could ask for, coaches that have taught me so much, fall in New England, yarn, and the man in my life. These are the things that have grown around grief. They have grown despite grief because I cultivated them. They’ve grown because I chose to be present and look. It’s so easy to miss the most basic pieces of gratitude. When was the last time you liked in the mirror and said, “Dang, I’m grateful for you!”
Gratitude is often referred to as the feeling with the “highest” vibration. If that’s true, then cultivating gratitude makes your body “feel” lighter (think of a hummingbird vibrating at 80 hZ).
What the experts are saying
The experts agree, a consistent gratitude practice has been shown to reduce stress (Krause, 2006), improves sleep (Wood et al, 2009), and possibly improve quality of life (Althause et al, 2018). And, when you feel Gratitude, the medial pre-frontal cortex (PFC) and anterior cingulate are active. If you’ve been following my work, you know that the PFC is the seat of our humanity. It’s the seat of all things that make us, well, us: Language, empathy, curiosity. Activating the PFC means the primitive part of the brain is quiet. Therefore, a gratitude practice is also a stress management tool! The more gratitude I feel, the less likely I am to feel stressed.
How to cultivate gratitude
I can’t say gratitude comes easily or naturally to me. Growing up in alcoholism means I learned to be hypervigilant and expect that things will fall apart. I’m the hero in my family – people pleasing, taking care of everyone else and then being resentful. So, before gratitude, I needed to learn about grace (See my previous article – here). I needed to muster grace for myself and my dad. Once I can dismantle the victim mentality, I’m ready for gratitude. Gratitude for me has been a process. One I fully expect to work on for the rest of my life.
That’s OK with me, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
How is your gratitude practice going these days?
If you’d like more information, opt into my mailing list to receive a free eBook of my favorite gratitude practices; click here.
Need more than journaling? I’ve also added gratitude meditation and other information in my course, Stress and Overwhelm: Causes, Coping and Cures. Click here to purchase.
Want to talk directly with me about how to cultivate a gratitude practice that sticks? Book a free call here.
Need to up your gratitude game? I’m here for you.
Gratitude is a reflection of a person’s integrity and civility. – Buddha
Kathleen Kelley, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Kelley is a professor of physical therapy, certified yoga teacher, certified neuro sculpting facilitator and certified life coach. She is CEO and owner of Kathleen Kelley Coaching. Dr. Kelley received her BS in physical therapy from the University of Connecticut, her MS in neurology from Boston University and her Doctorate in education from the University of Sarasota. Dr. Kelley’s passion for neurology, brain health, wellness and the importance of self-care led her to create her unique coaching program. She draws on her skills to empower individuals to shift their mindset, take control of their lives, set boundaries, say no and level up their lives by changing their thoughts. Dr. Kelley’s philosophy is anyone can change their mindset.