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The Choice to be Grateful

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The Choice to be Grateful

By Thelma Duffey (Counseling Today, November 2015; p 5)

elephant seal bellowing close up male juvenile , piedras blancasGratitude is an amazing feeling. Although it is not always easy for us to connect to this feeling, particularly during disappointing or frustrating times, I have found its positive impact to be very real.

I was on a flight the other day that was delayed because of mechanical difficulties. The airline did its best to accommodate its passengers, but the delay made for an especially long day. When I arrived at the hotel, someone asked me if my flight had been a good one. Almost instinctively, I responded with “terrific” and a smile. Moments later, I asked myself, “Was it terrific?” But I quickly concluded that any flight that gets me to me destination safely is pretty good indeed, and I was grateful.

Admittedly, this was an easy exercise in gratitude. There are any number of circumstances far more difficult to reconcile than a layover at the airport. Some of these situations even cause us grief, and I can’t say that I’m very good at feeling anything but grief during those times. In other circumstances though, even disappointments can be blessings in disguise. And when we are able to see that, we often find a reason to be thankful. So, at the end of the day, when there is a choice to be grateful, I want to choose it. The alternative is simply too costly.

Recent findings from brain research are illuminating. Research is now telling us that the brain “hurts” when we or our loved ones experience pain. In addition, the imagination is very real to our brains. Therefore, if we are caught up in stress or worry, our brains feel it too. Even more interesting, we are learning that emotional pain and physical pain have the same effect on the brain. In the words of an educational cartoon I just read, “A broken bone and a broken heart both cause the same smart.” And that makes sense! How many of us who have suffered such hurts wouldn’t recognize this to be true?

There is good news though. We are beginning to learn the circumstances under which our brains thrive and our injuries heal. Interestingly, it is when we connect with our sense of gratitude and compassion. Even more interesting? It is during these times when we most experience happiness. In other words, a grateful brain is a happy brain.

November is a month that encourages messages of thanksgiving and gratitude for many of us. It also serves as a point of reference to reflect on our blessings. As I reflect today, I am truly grateful for so much. I am grateful for my colleagues, near and far, and for the work we do for our profession and communities. I feel tremendous gratitude for our clients, who trust us to be partners in their journeys, and for our students, from whom we learn so much…Challenges arise in an imperfect world, and we do our best to meet them as fairly and thoughtfully as we can. For these, too, I am grateful.