A Thankful Heart Can Be Harder Said Than Done

by Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464

​Studies have shown that the main driver toward joy is gratitude.  In surveying people who describe themselves as happy these studies also see a correlation with thankfulness.  But when it feels like life has been throwing you curveballs and like you’re out of alignment with where you want to be in life right now, finding that grateful heart can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack and gratitude feels like a generic cliche.

Depression, anxiety, and trauma can all have a way of whispering all the ways you’re failing or your life has failed you.  It can remind you of all the times others have hurt you or the times you’ve hurt others, and therefore don’t deserve good things today.  It’s so sinister and sneaky in the way it doesn’t allow you a moment’s break to just enjoy something.  If it does let you enjoy it in the moment, you might replay it in your mind later and find the ways that were wrong so you’re not able to continue to your happy reminiscence.

Here’s the thing – while depression, anxiety, and/or trauma are not issues you control at any given moment, there are things you can do to take control back.  One of those things is gratitude.

When we’re in our fight or flight response – trauma and anxiety kick us into that space pretty quickly and easily and depression can get us into it when we realize we’re heading down that rabbit hole, our brains dim down the part of themself that is in charge of noticing positive, life affirming things.  During fight or flight, our brain’s sole purpose is to save you from danger, real or perceived.  So it’s looking.  It’s looking for the warning signs that you could get hurt.  It’s looking for what you might need to have on your radar so you can leep into action if it takes place.

But there are a million things that could take place, and won’t.

Here’s where gratitude comes in.  When you are listing the things you’re grateful for you’re also vicariously making a list of things that went well.  You’re giving your brain options of what can go right.  You’re watering down that danger-list.  You’re saying, “hey look, in this circumstance, I was supported or I succeeded.”  You’re not just placating an article that says to be grateful to be happy.  You’re teaching your brain that you don’t always need to be on high alert.

Over time, as you make this a habit (I like to suggest people list 3-5 things they’re grateful for that day when they go to bed) your brain begins to learn to combat the danger warnings.  As you lie awake worrying about what’s going to happen the next day about a certain topic, your brain will automatically reassure you that in a similar situation you were able to succeed because of x, y, z.  Your thinking pattern is affected in a way that is reassuring.

Eventually, the main thing on your mind becomes how you’re able to see things through and succeed, and the secondary thought becomes the fight or flight thought.  It takes a while, but it works!

Jessica Wilkerson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #104464 and is registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences.  She is the owner of Inspired Life Counseling in Chico, CA where she also works with clients while mentoring pre-licensed therapists.

Jessica has had to overcome her own fight or flight anxious thinking, and at times it tries to flair back up and she fights it back down again.  When she’s helping people deal with these issues she’s coming from a place of sincere desire to help see them from their dark places and into a life that is fruitful and joy-filled.  She leaves no stone unturned, from what has worked for her, what has worked for previous clients, and what is the newest in the field of psychotherapy.

If you’d like an appointment with Jessica, you can call (530) 809-1702 or send an email to info@inspiredlifechico.com