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Clear the backlog even if you cannot get in touch with the person (DW#655)

The practices that we have been discussing have two aspects:

1) the feeling of gratitude(which is an internal process for ourselves) and
2) the expressing of gratitudewhich is external and involves other people.

While it is extremely powerful to both feel and express gratitude, some of the people who show up in our list of people to thank may not be accessible to us at the present time. They may be out of touch, have passed on from this world or be entire groups of people such as teachers, speakers, coaches or volunteers at our places of worship.

In such situations, it is still worthwhile to engage in the first aspect of gratitude by recalling the kindnesses of such people, or groups of people, in detail. And then to write them out or to offer thanks to them in your imagination for the specific things that you are grateful for and appreciate about them.

One practice that I engage in regularly at the end of a busy season at our community centre is to recall the many many small things...

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Clear the backlog (DW#654)

Once you get going with writing the first gratitude letter, consider where you might have a backlog of thanks, for big things and little things. Kindnesses that you have received but which you never thanked the person properly.

"When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life," Martin Seligman writes in Flourish. "But," he continues, "sometimes our thank-you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless."

A wonderful and powerful practice is to make a list of people you want to thank and then gradually move through the list. In his book 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life, John Kralik explains how writing one Thank You note each day for 365 consecutive days instilled the attitude of gratitude in his life and helped him focus on little things he had been taking for granted. The process of doing this, he shares, transformed his life in so many ways that he did not expect.

If 365 days seems...

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The gratitude visit (DW#653)

Yesterday we talked writing a letter to thank someone personally for the difference they have made in your life. Today, let us consider taking this practice one step further:

Instead of mailing or e-mailing the letter, consider visiting the recipient of your gratitude letter and reading the letter to them yourself.

Here is how to schedule a gratitude visit:

• Let the person know that you would like to meet with them to share something without being too specific about what it is.

• When you meet this person, let them know that you are grateful to them and that you would like to read them a letter you wrote expressing your gratitude. Ask that they not interrupt you until you are done reading the letter.

• Take your time reading the letter. While you read, pay attention to your reactions and the reactions of the recipient.

• After you have read the letter, listen to his or her reaction to the letter and be ready to discuss your feelings together.

• Remember...

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The gratitude letter (DW#652)

Many people believe that today’s practice is perhaps the most powerful gratitude exercise there is. It is in two parts (we will talk about part two tomorrow inshallah).

The exercise involves writing a letter to someone who has exerted a positive influence in your life but whom you have not properly thanked. This can be a teacher or a mentor from your past, a grandparent, or anyone else who helped you in some way.

Here is how to write the letter:

· Address the person directly.
· Describe what this person has done that makes you grateful, and how they have impacted your life. Be as concrete and detailed as possible.
· Describe what you are doing in life now, and how frequently you remember their act of kindness or generosity.
· The letter does not have to be long as long as it contains some detail of what you appreciate about their actions.
· Here is an example:
To my grade 8 teacher

Dear Ms Shah

I realized that you may not realize how...

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Starting a gratitude practice (DW#645)

I really hope that by now you are convinced that a regular practice of gratitude is a powerful way to improve your mental and emotional wellbeing.

So how can you make it a part of your life?

1. Make an intention and commit.
Like creating any habit, we start with an intention. In this case, an intention to become more grateful and an intention to commit to a regular practice of gratitude.

Once we make the intention though, we may begin to notice that gratitude doesn’t seem to come as easily as grumbling does. Some days we will find it much more challenging than others. If we can just acknowledge the resistance and do it anyway, we will find that we will reap the greatest benefits.

2. Begin.
So let’s do it. There is nothing more to know or to research. We already have all the information we need about the benefits. The benefits, however, do not come from knowledge. They come from practice.

The easiest way to begin is to sit down with pen and paper or at your computer and...

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A recap of what gratitude is NOT (DW#644)

Let us recap what we have been talking about over the last few days: while gratitude is one of keys to mental and emotional wellbeing, it is important to recognize what it is not.

Let us reiterate what gratitude does not mean:
It does not mean you hide your true feelings or pretend to be grateful when you do not feel it
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing depression
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing abuse
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing unfair treatment
It is not about accepting poor behaviour in relationships, especially when that behaviour is abusive
It is not about not speaking up for your needs and desires in a relationship
It is not about not working to build a relationship that works for both
It is not about accepting the status quo when that status quo includes injustice towards vulnerable populations

Now that we have a balanced view...

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Gratitude and social justice (DW#643)

Continuing with our exploration of what gratitude does NOT mean, it is important to recognize that gratitude is not a license for passivity in the face of social injustice.

Being grateful for what is present does not mean that we do not recognize the inequalities and injustices that exist in the status quo and work towards change for a better world.

In other words, there is a difference between "be grateful for what you have" and "be content with what is." It is completely okay (in fact often necessary) to be rightly ticked off about some things while also giving what you do have its full measure of attention and appreciation.

Working for change or social justice sometimes means giving a lot of attention to things that are negative, painful or unjust. When we are giving those things the attention that they need, it can lead to burnout or ongoing distress. When we continue to balance the space in our brain with gratitude for things that are positive and good, we ensure that we have a...

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Gratitude and trauma (DW#642)

Survivors of abuse and trauma have a complicated relationship with gratitude. When a person is trying to work through formerly repressed feelings about abuse or trauma in the past, gratitude can become a stumbling block.

One reason for this is that on the surface, survivors of abuse often do not have a problem with gratitude. They may comply and do gratitude practices but it may not be the path to healing that they are looking for and need.

Survivors of abuse and trauma often have a problem with feeling their feelings. Abuse can really mess up a person’s trust in themselves. They do not have confidence that their feelings are warranted, accepted or okay. On top of that, gratitude may have been used by abusers to further confuse the victim and destabilize their sense of reality.

Once the abuse is behind them and they are on a healing journey, they are often recommended to initiate a practice of gratitude by well meaning friends or counsellors. Sometimes, these suggestions can...

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When gratitude is not appropriate in relationships (DW#641)

Over the last little while, we spent considerable time talking about how practicing gratitude in relationships will improve relationship quality and satisfaction.

We now need to address an important caveat about gratitude in relationships.

All the research that we have mentioned is focused on understanding factors that promote the maintenance of healthy relationships or turning around relationships that have the potential of being healthy.

There are, however, some relationships that will not be helped by gratitude.

If there is physical or emotional abuse in a relationship, telling the victim to look for the positive or to feel grateful may further victimize the person.

It is true that no one is entirely evil. The reality is that even abusers may have some aspects of their personality which are positive. A person who is aggressive or violent may be materially generous (a "good provider"). A serial adulterer may be charming, hardworking or a good parent. Someone addicted to substances...

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Pushing gratitude on someone who is experiencing depression (DW#640)

We are discussing how forcing gratitude on others may not work and may cause people to be the opposite of grateful. It especially may not work with someone who is experiencing moderate to severe depression.

Research suggests that gratitude exercises may trigger the "inner critic" in individuals experiencing anxiety or depression.

When a person is experiencing depression, by definition they are not able to look on the bright side or find things that are positive in their lives. And being asked to find things that are positive may make their depressive feelings worse.

In a recent study, completed in 2017, the researchers found that individuals with symptoms of depression sometimes felt indebted, guilty, or "like a failure" when they were not able to find something to be grateful for. In other words, being told to practice gratitude worsened their emotional state and added other negative emotions to those they were already feeling.

Others in the study who were able to find something to...

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