by Monica A. Ross, LPC
Gratitude. People who are resilient practice gratitude. It’s hard to tap into the feeling of gratitude when you have lost a child or loved one. It’s hard to tap into the feeling of gratitude when you’ve lost your job. When you look around your home once nicely decorated with every household item in its proper place to view the damage from a flood, again, the difficulty with having a spirit of thankfulness for that which is leftover after the damage.
So why then the call to be grateful when in the midst of tragedy all you can see is the vast wasteland that lies before you? We as human beings have a negativity bias. Social scientist Alison Ledgerwood In her TED Talk offers up her research that confirms this. If the bias is towards negativity then something must be done to bring back balance.
Some suggest the negativity bias could be traced to caveman days and our primitive survival needs when early humans constantly scanned the environment for any form of physical threat. Today we know that the limbic part of the brain which is tied to the amygdala or fear center processes information in milliseconds, which seems to suggest that our sense of fear in some way serves a survival purpose.
If we were in danger, we would need to know about it in a split second in order to react.
So then, gratitude may be just one of those things we truly have to develop the ability to cultivate in order to shirk our ancestry and all of the years of evolution that went into our making. We need to rely more on our prefrontal cortex to bring logic and reasoning on board when our first reaction may be to be on guard for threat.
Practicing gratitude is like adding rainfall to a desert. I witnessed this phenomenon while living in southern California. When the rains came in spring, the desert bloomed and locals would take trips to see all of the desert flowers coming to life.
Life might seem dry during periods of stress and transition and while our emotional landscape may be dearth at times, it is possible to add water as it were to inspire growth. Growth can take place in even the unseemliest of places.
We can observe this in the physical world. Extremophiles are microorganisms that can exist in previously thought of uninhabitable environments that include environments with high heat, acid, extreme pressure and severe cold.
What sustains the scarcity mindset or the desert of our emotional landscape, if you will, and gives us the illusion we can't survive in extremes is the idea that there are places where life can't exist--that certain situations could lead to our undoing like the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or even the loss of our home as in the examples above.
And that growth or regrowth or rebirth could not happen given certain cicumstances. Gratitude restores hope by focusing on the abundance that does exist, this, in turn, is the counterweight to the fear brought about by scarcity.
I often tell my clients it’s hard to be anxious and calm at the same time. Similarly, it’s hard to sustain a scarcity mindset when shifting focus towards that which we have to be grateful. Reframing is a very powerful technique for otherwise tragic situations.
And once the reframing begins, it brings back a sense of freedom and empowerment into our lives. Once we feel like we have some control over perhaps not the situation but how we choose to view it, it fuels personal agency which in turn sparks the desire for movement. All of these elements of resilience play off of each other and each is a critical part of the whole.