Gratitude is a Virtue
by Debbie Hommel, ACC/MC/EDU, CTRS

Is the glass is half full or half empty?  Do you believe the sun will come out tomorrow?  Whatever happens, good or bad, can you find the positive in things?  Even in your darkest hour, can you find something to be thankful for?  Being thankful is an emotion which has been directly related to positive feelings of wellness and improved quality of life.   As we enter the season which emphasizes “thanksgiving” and gratitude, the activity professional needs to understand that being thankful and the  Thanksgiving holiday can go beyond the typical events of “turkey races”, Thanksgiving discussions and making turkey crafts.

Many people can relate to the feeling of gratefulness as we have all been given something or assisted at one time or another.  Pure gratitude is felt when the assistance provided is valuable to the one receiving it and it is given without any strings attached.  It is not gratitude when the one receiving assistance feels they will “owe” something in return for the helping gesture.  It is also hard to feel gratitude when the assistance provided was viewed as not needed or desired by the individual receiving it.     Being helpful and receiving help is a lot more complicated than it looks, as it often involves personal agendas and unspoken expectations.

Since the year 2000, there have been many psychological studies on the emotion of gratitude and its impact upon an individual’s wellbeing and psycho-social outlook.    The studies have indicated the following points:
– Grateful people are happier, less depressed and more satisfied with their personal lives.
-Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the stresses in their lives.
-Grateful people sleep better.
-Grateful people cope better with life transition.

A number of Appreciation Scales have been developed which identify specific areas in life an individual can feel gratitude.   These areas of appreciation include people, possessions, the present moment, and rituals.  The activity professional can introduce ways to review these areas of gratitude through discussion, programming, familiar events and other activities which stimulate review of “life’s blessings”.

Here are some suggestions to generate positive thoughts on gratitude with our residents:
-Write a “gratitude letter” to someone whom they are thankful to – a family member, a neighbor, or a staff member.  The resident could then present the letter to the individual at a social or special event.
-Keep a “gratitude journal or diary” where the resident would identify three things daily that they are grateful for.   Identifying daily blessings, committing them to paper and then discussing them at a social event remind the individual of the good things in life.
-Create a “Blessings Collage” where pictures (from magazines, the Internet and other sources) representing the individual’s areas of appreciation are organized onto a collage.   The collage can be framed and hung in the resident’s room.
-Start the morning program with a moment devoted to discussion of blessings.  Discussing specific actions or thoughts, no matter how small, reminds everyone to be appreciative.
-Introduce a class which outlines the benefits of positive thinking and feeling gratitude.  Share information from the various psychological studies which define the physical and psychological benefits of gratitude.
-If you have a white board in your activity room or somewhere visible – use it to post a positive thought of the day.  Encourage discussion amongst the residents as well as staff about the saying and how it relates to them and their lives.
-Give the residents “thank you” coupons for them to distribute throughout the day.  Invite everyone who received a thank you coupon to an afternoon party and distribute prizes to those who received the most coupons.
-Introduce opportunities for the residents to be helpful to others.  They need to experience the joy and personal satisfaction of being appreciated as well.   Fund raising, food drives, and helping in various ways around the home are some ways they can be of assistance.

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
~Cynthia Ozick