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What Matters Most: Thoughts on Gratitude

This blog was inspired by the book, “What Matter Most:  Living a More Considered Life,” by Dr. James Hollis.  

Dr. Hollis has been a revered psychologist for decades. His words and thoughts are deep and not for the casual reader. It took me about six months to get through this book and I have referred to it on dozens of occasions. You might call it a desert island book—one that you would take with you onto a deserted island if you had only one choice of reading.

One of the standout statements in his book occurs on page 13: "Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, ‘Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?’"

He warns: “Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer. You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you then know your marching orders.”

I tend to see expressions or works of gratitude as one of those choices. It is pretty clear what the answer is, whether it will diminish or enlarge me, but there is a bigger question at stake. If gratitude is this special super power of positivity and love, why then is it we have a hard time deploying it regularly or receiving it from others?

Dr. Hollis believes that the choices we make or don’t, are made out of fear.

Gratitude can be the single most-effective, in-the-moment, response to depression.  

I have experienced gratitude on a variety of planes this year. If I take a look back, I can identify certain experiences in which I felt gratitude in the moment. I can identify efforts to write down something I was grateful for every day, no matter how small.  I can identify gratitude going forward as I make a big transition from public to private practice. 

In a New York Times article from November 22, 2019, titled “Why Gratitude Is Wasted on Thanksgiving,” by David Desteno, the author posits the idea that gratitude is not just about looking back and saying “thanks.” Rather, the practice of gratitude propels us into deeper, stronger connections with others and a willingness to pay it forward. It is a future-oriented idea versus only “looking back” and giving thanks.  

If you are like me, diving into gratitude comes easily after I experience an outcome that was positive and in my favor. When family is getting along or we have had an amazing meal, gratitude comes as natural as breathing in and out. Being on the beach and watching the sunset is a place that I frequently express gratitude. But that’s easy. 

My question is, what does gratitude look like for you during the hard times?

Diving into gratitude after a failure, a mistaken decision, or in the middle of a grief experience is simply a skill that seems out of reach for me.  Feeling emotional pain would not seem to be a fertile ground for gratitude.  But after this past year of committing to practice gratitude during my worst moments, I can tell you that pain is the perfect point to start. 

Practicing gratitude in painful moments has helped propel me forward in making seemingly difficult decisions easier. Gratitude is like a bulldozer, clearing out the unnecessary thoughts in your mind—mostly fear-based—and creating a pathway of deeper connection to people and your purpose.  

At the end of every day, ask yourself: “Did I show up for what matters most?” Faith, family, work, friends, our furry loved ones, etc.?  

Ask yourself: “Where do I unearth gratitude in my life?”  Under what circumstances?

What are your top three sources of gratitude? Tell us in the comments! 

I like to describe the Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence as a gratitude-based operation. We are grateful for the opportunity to bring Campbell County, Wyoming a truly excellent, counseling service. 

We intend to pay our gratitude forward every moment we get.

Brian Edwards, LMFT, CATC, is the founder of the Wyoming Center for Clinical Excellence in Gillette, Wyoming. Brian specializes in trauma, group counseling, marriage and family therapy and substance abuse and addiction therapy.