Gratitude: One of the Pathways to Resilience and Self Confidence

How can we a strong future for young people? Further develop their capacity for resilience and self confidence, using gratitude as part of that journey.

Life can sometimes be challenging and it’s easy to get caught up in what feels like a never-ending cycle of responsibilities, stressors, and at times, chaos.  Add in horrifying news from around the world, and the 24-hour news cycle filling our feeds with narratives that can have us feeling helpless and, worse, hopeless about the state of the world.  Then there is social media, and the click bait that is often anchored in misinformation, which is intentional in creating fear, anger, and, well, money for those behind it. 

For many of us, who have or do struggle with our mental health, or those who are feeling overwhelmed by life being life, there is a powerful tool to tackle our anxieties – and that is gratitude. The simple act of appreciating and valuing the good things in our lives and in the world around us can have profound effects on our mental health and well being, resulting in greater resilience, positivity, and overall well-being.

Gratitude is more than “thank you” though, and while that’s always a great start; it’s really a mindset, or a way of seeing the world through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. When we practice being grateful, in how we think, feel, and connect, we shift our focus from what we lack to what we have.  How often have we thought things like, ‘I wish I had’ instead of, ‘am I ever grateful for what I have.’  When we actively begin to shift how we think (leading to how we will feel and connect) we build a sense of contentment and satisfaction with our lives. This shift in perspective can work wonders for our wellness, helping process and lessen stress, anxiety, and depression.

One of the key benefits of practicing gratitude is its ability to counteract negative emotions. Research has taught us that expressing gratitude can lower levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone, while increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin, associated with happiness and well-being. By being mindful on the positive aspects of our lives, we can shift our brains to become more attuned to joyfulness, connection, and peace in our spirits.  When we practice gratitude as a tool to shift our well being, we start to see more and more joy around us.

Gratitude has been found to strengthen our relationships with others, and this is critical if you have difficult relationships in your life. When we express gratitude towards friends, family, or even strangers, we strengthen that sense of connection and belonging, something we all need to feel, yet so often we don’t. When we value these supportive relationships, they act as a protective factor against mental health crises, providing a sense of stability and support during challenging times. 

Those who struggle with feeling or demonstrating gratitude can find themselves swimming in negativity, fear, and mistrust: seeing the world as a dark and unfriendly space, where there is always someone or something that is targeting them, or all of us.  With a focus on what’s wrong in or with the world, instead of seeing the greatness that surrounds us, even in the face of the challenges that are real, it can be difficult to see, value and appreciate what they have around them.  It risks reducing their capacity to be resilient, living with unmanageable stress and pressure, triggering pre-existing health issues and in general, makes life much more challenging. 

For those who struggle with gratitude, or those of us who try to practice gratitude doesn’t require grand gestures; it’s about finding the good in the world around us and a deeper meaning in the ordinary moments of life. Whether it’s appreciating a sunrise or sunset, enjoying a delicious, shared meal, or simply being grateful for the love and support we receive, there are countless opportunities to acknowledge or demonstrate gratitude in our daily lives. Keeping a gratitude journal, where we write down three things (pun intended), we’re thankful for each day, is one of the most simple yet effective ways to incorporate gratitude into our routine.

In addition to its immediate effects on mental health, gratitude also offers long-term benefits that can improve our overall quality of life. Research has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to experience greater levels of optimism, resilience, and life satisfaction. They are better able to cope with adversity and bounce back from setbacks thanks to their ability to find meaning and purpose in even the most challenging circumstances.

Furthermore, gratitude has been linked to better physical health outcomes, including lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. By promoting relaxation and stress reduction, gratitude creates an internal environment that is conducive to healing and well-being. It’s no wonder that cultures around the world have long recognized the healing power of gratitude, incorporating practices of thanksgiving into ceremonies, rituals, and traditions.  We have learned so much from our dear teacher, Grandmother Kathy Brant, who shares the Ohèn:ton Karihwatéhkwenwith us as we open many of our spaces.  On the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte website, they share:

In oral tradition, the Rotinonhsyón:ni  “open” gatherings of people with the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, commonly referred to as the “Opening Address” or the “Thanksgiving Address”. A more literal translation, in the words of Elder Tom Porter is “what we say before we do anything important”.

This ceremony acknowledges and recognizes the importance and relationship of all life forces in Creation. The purpose is to bring the minds of everyone at the gathering together as one.

You can’t hear these words without feeling so grateful, for all our relations. 

Our best suggestions as we build our understanding of gratitude is, again pun intended, includes three things:

Talk:  Let folks know you are grateful for them and what they bring to your life.  Don’t confuse this with thank you (which we know your Grandma wants you to say regardless) – but dig deeper.  Thank you ….. for doing / acting / offering – and it means (what) to me. 

And here’s a secret – the process of thinking about what and how you will share your gratitude with someone means you get to relieve the emotions you felt when you were on the receiving end of a positive situation.  That matters.  While the person you talk to will be reminded that they matter, are important and belong in your space, you too, will be more likely to look at the world through a different lens: one anchored in appreciation, hope, and happiness. 

Write: Writing helps us take intentional time to think about and process how we are feeling. How you do it – on a device, in a journal, or the back of a receipt that you pulled from your pocket – reflect on what you are grateful for or the good in the world you experienced, witnessed, or read about that day.  Search out what makes you happy and incorporate it each day – and you’ll always have something to write about. 

Do: Actions speak louder than words.  So, get going.  Turn your feelings of gratitude into actions.  Pay what you have received forward, be kind, be there and listen for someone who needs an ear, and when you can offer support or help as needed by those in your circle. 

Gratitude is a powerful tool for promoting mental health and well-being. By shifting our focus from what we lack to what we have, gratitude allows us to nurture a deeper sense of appreciation and happiness with our lives. From reducing stress and anxiety to enhancing relationships and fostering resilience, the benefits of gratitude are too numerous to ignore.

So, will you take a moment today and express gratitude for the abundance and beauty that surrounds you?