Someone’s Gotta Say It…
Nurturing Gratitude: A Lighthouse in Stormy Waters
By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia
“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”
— Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)
Finding peace of mind in a world filled with interpersonal violence is not easy. With the constant barrage of multi-media journalism, pretend-news and social media, it’s a challenge to stay informed about current events without overdosing on images of man-made tragedies.
People often ask, “How do you and your team deal with all the horrible things done to people who come to you for help? I don’t think I could handle it.” To say it’s a calling minimizes the effects on the helpers. Without an intentional counterbalance, the natural response can be to become numb and jaded about people, systems, and life. And truth be told, I wrestle with frustration about our collective refusal to invest in measures known to prevent violence.
For all of us, the cultivation of gratitude is a powerful tool and a psychological anchor holding steadfast in the turbulent seas of human suffering. The practice of gratitude builds mental resilience, and it has sustained my actual life and all the goodness in it for decades.
More Grateful than Thankful
Gratitude is nuanced, existing on a plane deeper than mere thankfulness. Consider thankfulness the immediate reaction to positive outcomes or narrow escapes — the meeting concluding early or the unlikely absence of traffic on I-85. Gratitude, however, is richer and more conscious — an appreciation that lingers and proliferates. It’s the recognition of ongoing goodness and the contributions of others, generating warmth and solidarity that extend far beyond the self.
For example, I am grateful for all the people who donate blood and platelets; they kept me alive for over a year. That gratitude arises each time I see a blood donation event in the community.
Gratitude, like love, is a practice as well as an emotion. It requires a conscious effort to see beyond the immediate, the loudest distractions. Observing and appreciating the positive facets of life develops mental resilience, even when overwhelmed with fear or pain. I called upon it in my darkest moments (sometimes teasing it out with some macabre humor).
The Science Behind Gratitude
Research within positive psychology corroborates the benefits of a grateful mindset. Studies indicate that practicing gratitude consistently contributes to mental well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. By acknowledging the good, individuals combat the natural negativity bias, which, while evolutionarily protective, can be debilitating.
This shift is not about wearing rose-colored glasses but about recalibrating the mind to appreciate moments of kindness, success, and love that do exist amidst the chaos.
Exercise that Gratitude Muscle
For personalities with higher levels of pessimism, the practice of gratitude may feel unsettling at first. Start simple: First: over a meal with another person or group, share one lowlight of the day and then three highlights. Invite others to do the same. When you spend more time and thoughts on the positive elements of the day, the meal will be tastier and you will leave the table more satisfied. Second: when you are in bed with the lights out, before you go to sleep, speak three things you are grateful for from the day. Let your mind rest for the night with those thoughts.
Gratitude allows those confronting or experiencing human suffering to maintain their humanity, find contentment, and continue their indispensable work. It is a choice to seek light and create an inner sanctuary of peace, from which we draw our strength.
Think of gratitude as more than a personal practice; it is a gift we share, through our continued hope and our belief in a better tomorrow. You’re welcome!