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Daily Gratitude Exercise: Daily 3-2-1

Several years ago, over a shared steak dinner at a local restaurant, a friend and I talked about all kinds of things ranging from physics to depression. I happened to share this little daily gratitude exercise I use regularly at work called Daily 3-2-1 (full disclosure, I learned it from Dr. Caroline Danda). 

My friend later told me that she found the benefits of gratitude so transformative that she gave all of her family members 3-2-1 gratitude journals for Christmas. I hope it’s that helpful for you, too.

This exercise is structured in a way to directly counter depressive thinking, which tends to be overly negative about yourself, the world, and the future. You don’t have to be depressed to benefit from it, though. Think of this as a daily exercise to build your gratitude muscle. 

Practices like this cultivate gratitude and increase happiness. These can help train you to notice more of the positives in your day-to-day. Just keep in mind that this seemingly simple exercise can be a real challenge on days when you’re feeling down or days that really seemed to suck. 

Do it anyways! Especially on those days. The more times per week you do this, the more moments of gratitude you will have and the more you will naturally start to notice and pay attention to positive moments throughout the day.

Check out the Daily 3-2-1 Gratitude Prompts to elicit stronger levels of gratitude and lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Much like a reflection of daily journaling, having a daily gratitude practice improves mental health, increases levels of happiness, and produces positive experiences. Practicing gratitude not only has a positive impact on your mental health, but your physical health as well. 

Even if you find it hard to feel grateful, try to parse out some good things in your life. Small gratitude meditations on a daily basis elicit stronger levels of positive emotions. These small daily routines to feel gratitude are truly a winning ticket to happiness. 

Are you interested in learning more ways to boost your mindset and build your psychological strength? Check out our foundational program, Ascend. Now, with your enrollment in the Ascend program, you can get access to our live virtual workshops each quarter…for free! Instill this sense of gratitude in all areas of your life. 

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Gratitude Habits for Life

Gratitude gets a lot of attention these days. Hopefully, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the benefits of a gratitude practice. It helps train your brain to notice and appreciate the little things in life and, in doing so, shifts your life experience tremendously. 

Gratitude can increase your happiness and wellbeing, life satisfaction, even overall health while decreasing the stuff we all want less of like anxiety, depression, and anger. Whether its a gratitude journal or expressing gratitude, it is important to practice gratitude. Today, though, I want to offer some new perspectives on gratitude.

Power of Gratitude as a Competing Response

In the world of habits, there’s a treatment approach called Habit Reversal Training. A key component of HRT is the use of a competing response, which is an action that is incompatible with the habit you are trying to break. For example, if you’re trying to break a nail biting habit, you might clasp your hands as a competing response when you feel the urge to bite. It’s really difficult to clasp your hands AND bite your nails at the same time. Consistently using a competing response trains your body to replace the undesired habit with the new one.

Rumination, worry, complaining, and negativity are mental habits, and ones with far worse consequences than nail biting. These mental habits involve stewing on negative thoughts, indulging them in a repeating and amplifying loop with the effect of dragging down your mood and pulling you out of the present moment. I propose that we try gratitude as a competing response for these mental habits

It’s surprisingly difficult to tap into gratitude – really tap into it – and also get stuck in negativity. When you find yourself getting wrapped up in those negative thoughts or starting down a spiral, challenge your mind to find something in that moment to be grateful for. Be sure you don’t just go through the motions, though. The goal is to truly activate grateful feelings to help buoy you against the negativity and to help keep you grounded in the present moment.

When Gratitude Backfires

I’d argue that you’d be hard pressed to find a situation in which tapping into gratitude isn’t possible or isn’t helpful. That said, be mindful that gratitude doesn’t become fuel for guilt. That happens when your mind uses gratitude to minimize your painful experiences.

It might sound something like this: “I don’t have a right to be sad. I have so much to be grateful for. I haven’t been hit as hard as others.” Sentiments like that take gratitude, which is an expanding and bolstering practice, and turn it into a mental whip with which to flog yourself. The resulting guilt is unnecessary and underserved.

Research shows that grateful people are generally happier people, but gratitude doesn’t negate pain. It’s a “both and” not an “either or” practice. You can be both hurting AND grateful. You can use gratitude as a lifeline to keep you from drowning in the negative mental habits that intensify your pain but not to eliminate pain completely.

Your daily gratitude practice can start small. Spend time every single day just tapping into feelings of gratitude. Acknowledge the reality of your present situation and find some small bright spot. 

In this moment, I miss my family who I haven’t seen in eons because of COVID AND I am grateful for grocery delivery and a warm sunny day.

In this moment, my heart hurts for those who were affected by the recent shootings in the U.S. AND I am grateful for feeling well rested this morning.

In this moment, I am SO OVER this pandemic AND I appreciate my Brandon Sanderson audio books that I love so much.

In this moment, I am grateful for you, that you’re in our community and that you’re a part of the movement to make life better.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”
–       Ralph Waldo Emerson

P.S. If you like this post and want to understand gratitude even better, Dr. April and I just recorded a podcast episode about gratitude habits and toxic positivity. We go so much deeper into these topics. It was such a great conversation!

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10 Tips for Feeling Better this Winter

You’re probably expecting something related to love or relationships in honor of Valentine’s Day. Sorry to disappoint, but I’ve got other things to share today. I don’t know about you, but it seems like nearly everyone (self included) has hit a wall in the past week or two. The ongoing pandemic plus the ridiculously frigid weather has us in a bit of a funk. 

Fortunately, psychology offers us a ton of tips, techniques, and strategies to help ward off the winter+ blues. So here are 10 tips for feeling better this winter. 

1.     Put a smile on your face…and in your mind.

Smile. Make it a part of your daily routine. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if it’s completely fake. Just do it. And hold it for a while. You might feel silly, but engaging your smile muscles just might trick your brain into feeling a bit happier.

Now the “put a smile in your mind” part is something I heard during a Sam Harris meditation this week, and I loved it. I’m not exactly sure how to explain how to do it, but I could feel it. I hope you can, too.

2.     Laugh

My little brother used to youtube “babies laughing” when he needed a boost, and I have my go to videos that are guaranteed to crack me up. Find something funny to watch, read, think about, or share. And if all else fails, just start laughing. If you give it long enough, the fake stuff will turn into genuine laughter.

3.     Do something productive.

When motivation, energy, and mood are low we tend to do things that are more passive, rather than active, and more consumption-based as opposed to creation-based. That is, we passively take things in rather than actively put something into the world, and that passive consumption doesn’t do us any favors. Doing something productive will give you a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t enjoy the task in the moment, it feels good to get it done. 

Another way to tap into that sense of accomplishment is to set a goal and crush it. Even silly little goals that don’t matter in the grand scheme of life can be useful here. Being challenged and working to conquer that challenge feels good.

4.     Do something social.

Yes, I know this one is hard. The past year has made it incredibly difficult to meet our social needs, and that’s likely one of the contributing factors to our collective funk. But even outside of COVID, we tend to withdraw and isolate when we’re down, which only fuels the ick. 

Connecting with others can help break the spiral. It can also be surprisingly helpful to share with someone how you’re feeling or what you’re going through. Sometimes sharing the load really does help to lighten it.

5.     Move your body.

Physical activity does all kinds of good stuff for your body…and your brain. Without going into the boring details, tons of studies show that exercise has mood-boosting effects; it’s a natural antidepressant, antianxiety thing. Winter makes it hard to get outside, but find some way to move your body, get your heart rate up a bit, and maybe even break a sweat. Throw on some tunes and dance around, do a workout video from youtube, and do some bodyweight exercises. 

You may not feel like it, and your mind will give you a million excuses not to, but, if you’re able to override the inertia, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Get your vitamin d from the sun to help with the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Walking and fresh air paired with sunshine and green spaces improve your mental health and your immune system. 

6.     Do a theoretically enjoyable activity that doesn’t involve a screen.

Back to that passive consumption idea, consider how you spend your time when you’re feeling off. Do you scroll more? Watch more? Basically, sit and take content in? These kinds of things don’t really boost our mood. Sure, you might enjoy it in the moment, but over time it’s a mood/energy/motivation zap. 

Think of some other activities you used to enjoy and make yourself do one of them for 15 minutes. You just might find that once you get going, the enjoyment kicks in.

7.     Try some metta meditation.

Meditation in general is a great practice that tends to lower depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. I’m finding this specific type of meditation to be particularly helpful right now. Metta roughly translates into loving-kindness. I’ll admit, I find that hippie-dippie name kind of cringe-inducing, but the practice is legit. 

This particular type of meditation helps you tap into, hold on to, and boost positive emotional states like love, kindness, and compassion. It’s a good antidote to the dark, heavy feelings. Google “metta meditation” or “lovingkindness meditation,” and you’ll find tons of free ones to try out.

8.     Daydream.

Staying present is generally something to strive for, but some intentional daydreaming can be quite beneficial. Use your imagination to conjure images of warmth and sunshine and all the things you’re looking forward to when this (whatever this is) passes. Having something to look forward to can help stave off hopelessness and boredom and, in turn, keep us resilient and happy.

9.     Watch out for sneaky negativity…

There’s a fine line between processing and venting. Processing is working through difficult things, perhaps leaning on your social support. It’s useful. Venting, though it feels good in the moment, is really just rehashing the same old negativity, without gaining insights or solving a problem. It’s basically ruminating out loud, with someone else. Notice what emotional state venting puts you in. Do you need more of that right now?

The goal here isn’t to deny the negative stuff. It’s just to recognize whether stewing in it is helping you or hurting you. We don’t have a choice in a lot of the things going on, but we do have a choice in where we focus our attention. Less venting and less complaining can make a big difference.

10.  And balance it out.

We’re going to complain at some point. It’s a really hard habit to break. We can offset the negativity, though, by balancing it out. Follow up complaints with a “but at least.” 

“It’s a bitter cold day! But at least the snow is beautiful today.”

“I miss my family! But at least they’re safe, and I can talk to them by phone today.”

“Netflix took away The Office! But at least that’ll make it easier to try some of the other things on this list.”

I’d be remiss not to also mention gratitude and savoring here. Focusing on and expressing appreciation, for yourself and/or others, is important all the time, especially now. It’s not enough to give quick lip service, though. Savoring means really intensifying the experience by focusing on it, reflecting on it, and holding it in mind for a period. 

Draw out the sweetness of the moment like you’re trying to get the most out of the last bite of something truly delicious. Doing that helps it stick in our minds, giving it a bigger impact.

Support your mental health by taking time for yourself. Follow these ten steps to prioritize yourself and your wellbeing. 

Taken together, these strategies can make quite a big difference. I doubt, however, that it’s an exhaustive list. If you’ve figured out some others that work for you, I’d love to hear them!

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck
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Your Election Week Survival Guide

Let me get straight to the point. It’s election week in the US, and tensions are HIGH. So many people are feeling anxious and angry as we await the results and anticipate the next 4 years.

I suspect that wait is going to extend well past Tuesday night if the predictions I’ve heard are correct. It could take days or weeks to get the final tally from all of the ballots. That means that those tensions, that anxiety and anger, are likely to stay…and maybe even escalate. Here are 5 tips for surviving election week.

1.     Learn the difference between News and Noise.

There’s going to be a lot of the latter coming at you. News is factual, unbiased information whereas Noise is a distraction. It’s loud and unpleasant and causes a disturbance. It’s irrelevant though it can sound important.

Noise includes the speculations, predictions, assumptions, and opinions coming at you from news broadcasts and TV programming, articles, your social feeds, your neighbors, your family, even your own mind.

So much of human suffering comes from the “extra” we add to situations, from our minds’ commentary. Remember, that’s just Noise. And over the upcoming week(s), other people may get loud with their Noise and project it onto you.  Noise commands your attention, but you don’t have to give it. TUNE IT OUT.

2.     Compassion is the antidote to hate and anger. 

Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall on, you may have some strong feelings toward the other side. While the right kind of anger can be motivating, some anger is unnecessary and unhelpful, meaning that it can detract from your wellbeing and that of others. Compassion is the key.

To tap into your compassion this week, keep in mind that we have FAR more in common than it might seem. A recent study looked at the similarities among people across the globe and found that we’re overwhelming similar – on average upwards of 90% similar in attitudes on a range of things like human values (e.g., independence, achievement, conformity, tradition, benevolence, power), moral attitudes (e.g., dishonesty, domestic violence, purity), and trust (in other people, science, and the government).

More than 90% similar. Let that sink in. 

At our core, we all value the same things like education, security, and morality. Our current political system, among other contributing factors, amplifies differences, and our brains, with their information processing glitches, run wild with them. We fall prey to the Us/Them bias, black-or-white thinking, mind reading, name calling, and judgements, just to name a few. It’s your job to keep your mind in check, and this week is going to be a real psych strength challenge (If you need to shore up your own psych strength skills, our Ascend program can help).

Try to put yourself in others’ shoes and see the world from their perspective. Try to understand rather than judge. Try to find some common ground that can be a unifying force. Try to let your values guide you, not your fear or anger.

3.     Play nice.

I get that you may be passionate about the issues that speak to you, and you may feel compelled toward action. You may want to bring others to your side, and you may find yourself in heated discussions, in real life or online. Before you react, though, take a pause. Ask yourself what you really want from this interaction. While it may feel satisfying to unleash on someone else, to tell them how and why they’re wrong, that’s unlikely to end with them changing their mind. In fact, they’ll likely dig in more, and you will have actually just helped to strengthen their resolve. Think about it. When was the last time someone came at you, telling you that you’re wrong, perhaps tossing out a name or two, and you said, “You’re right! Thanks for helping me see the error of my ways”?

Exactly.

Changing someone’s mind starts with understanding their mind first. Starting at that common ground and operating from a place of compassion and respect, you may be able to guide them to a new way of thinking. Shouting, arguing, name calling…that’s all just Noise.

4.     Practice gratitude.

No matter what happens Tuesday or in the following weeks, there is a lot to be grateful for. Don’t lose sight of that. When you find yourself feeling anxious or angry or overwhelmed or disillusioned, take 60 seconds to find something IN THAT VERY MOMENT to be grateful for. Tapping into gratitude – really feeling it – can be a powerful way to tame internal Noise and find some calm in the chaos.

5.     Finally, be sure that you are taking some time to unplug, to breathe deeply to calm your nervous system, and to take care of yourself.

If you missed it, our Tips to Survive and THRIVE Through the Political Season podcast episode may be worth a listen.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
-Jo Cox
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Self-Gratitude Practice: A Different Take on Thanksgiving

This week, our community members in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving but should focus on self-gratitude. For many of us, this year will be different from than years past. With the pandemic at an all-time high, many of us are choosing to celebrate the holiday in a smaller, more low-key way. But this year, think differently and turn inward to focus on your self-gratitude practice. 

Regardless of what you and your family have chosen to do, the sentiment of gratitude that many of us focus on around the Thanksgiving holiday is worth focusing on.

Gratitude

In the field of Psychology, unfortunately, there are no real ‘silver bullets.’ Our minds are tricky little organs, and many times, creating real, meaningful, lasting change requires work over a long period of time.

Gratitude is the closest thing we have to an exception to that rule.

A simple Google Scholar search will turn up dozens of articles showing the protective impact of gratitude. Gratitude is shown to increase happiness and life satisfaction and decrease depressive symptoms.

More specifically, the activity of writing a letter of gratitude to a specific person packs a very meaningful punch. 

Given the year we’ve had, I think we can all spend time focusing on Positive Psychology….but we want to put a spin on it this year. Put all the negative events behind you and focus on today’s daily gratitude lesson. 

So let’s take a little time and be reflective on the past year we have had. Just 20 minutes, that’s all it takes. Close your eyes and put all the negative things behind you, and think only about the things you are grateful for. Now, more specifically, think about YOURSELF, and what you are grateful for within. 

Self-Gratitude Letter

We’ve all faced incredible hardship this year in our own, unique ways. 

People have lost jobs, lost family members, the political and social climate of the U.S. and the broader globe has caused rifts in families and between friends, we’ve faced uncertainty, ambiguity, fear, and change. This can make it hard to feel grateful, or even practice gratitude at all.

But this week, we encourage you to set aside just 20 minutes to recognize yourself for all you’ve gotten through.

Take 20 minutes to write a gratitude letter to yourself.

In many cases, it’s a lot easier to write a gratitude letter to other people. It is easier to share your gratitude with the people in your life, but much more difficult to practice the attitude of gratitude on yourself.  We can easily point out the positive accomplishments and qualities in other people that we overlook in ourselves.

To help you with that, we’ve listed a set of prompts below to help get things started. 

Read through them, schedule a 20-minute date with yourself, put on some appropriate music, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and take some time to reflect on YOU. This is YOUR mini gratitude journal. This is YOUR present moment. And YOUR time to feel gratitude and express gratitude for the good things in life in the midst of all this unknown. 

Self-Gratitude Prompts

  • I want to thank you for…..
  • You have accomplished….
  • In spite of difficult circumstances, you survived…..
  • Your strengths include….
  • You have grown so much….
  • You are an asset to everyone around you, including….
  • You’re working so hard at….
  • You’ve become so much more aware of….
  • You have made progress at….
  • You’ve managed to….
  • You’ve shown others how to….
  • You have used your voice by….
  • You’ve been courageous….
  • You have learned….
  • You have persisted at…
  • You continue to show up as / for….

 

We’re Grateful for You

If there has been one steady point for us at Peak Mind, it is this community. We’ve been through a lot together throughout this pandemic, and we’ve grown together, both in number and in resilience.

We want to thank you for the role you play in that.

It may not seem like a lot. But, we see it when you open and read our emails. We see you subscribing to and downloading our podcast. We see the work you’re doing inside our programs. 

We are so grateful for people reading and supporting Peak Mind. 

We’re so appreciative.

At our most reflective moments, we dream about a world where everyone takes their own mental health seriously and works to become psychologically strong. Imagine what that could look like. The suffering that would be reduced. The way people would live and thrive.

Each time you show up in this community through even the smallest of acts, you contribute to that future vision.

Our 200th Episode!

CUE THE CONFETTI! Last week we published the 200th episode of the Building Psychological Strength podcast!

In celebration of this milestone, we dove deep into 5 different skills that comprise ‘psychological strength.’ 

Give it a listen, and think about how impactful these skills could be in your life and in the lives of others.

“The deepest craving of human nature is to be appreciated.”
-William James
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How A Skinned Knee Had Me Feeling Grateful

I have to share a painful/slightly hilarious story with you.

I’m currently training for my first half-marathon. Yesterday, I was a little over 7 miles into my planned 8 mile run, and I was feeling good. Really good, in fact, so I picked up the pace. I crossed 75th Street, the busiest intersection on my route, and the next thing I know, my face was plummeting toward the ground.

  • “What’s happening?”
  • “I’m falling!”
  • “This is bad!”
  • “My face is going to hit the pavement.”
  • Images of teeth shattering (one of my front teeth is already half fake because of a bike riding/pavement situation as a kid)
  • “I’m hurt!”

Those were the thoughts that blinked through my mind in a jumbled instant.

Thankfully, I was able to stop my momentum at the last second, with my face hovering an inch from the ground, teeth intact. Stunned, I pushed myself up as a red minivan pulled into the nearby parking lot to make sure I was ok (did I mention it was a busy intersection? There were SO MANY cars stopped at the light, witnessing my fall.)

I was also able to stop my mind. Paying attention to the present moment I began to look around and breathe through my emotions.

Then another thought entered my mind: “You fell. You can’t run anymore.”

Fortunately, I was able to set that thought aside before it could take hold. I quickly assessed the damage, realized I was shaken but not seriously injured, got up, and finished my run. I even beat my goal time.

I was on a path I’d traversed 100 times. I didn’t feel myself trip or stumble. I didn’t see it coming. Yet, I fell. Hard. And it sucked. Yet I called in some positive emotions. 

And I got back up and persevered.

As I finished my run then bandaged myself up at home, I reflected on what happened, and this is where the feelings of gratitude came in. 

Gratitude is more than a throwaway emotion. It’s a verb. An active, not a passive thing. Truly being grateful, meaning that we are actively feeling and showing that gratitude, is really more of an action taking place.

I was feeling grateful to my past self for all the hard work she’s done to build psychological strength. That work was the reason I was able to get up and move forward so quickly. I had my eye on the goal and a clear sense of who I am.

  • I’m the kind of person who can handle painful things.
  • I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let my mind take me off course.
  • I’m the kind of person who isn’t afraid of failure.

I can handle painful things.

I don’t like pain. I mean, who does? Yet, aspects of psychological strength help me move through painful experiences without getting crushed. 

Yesterday, it was my mindfulness and acceptance skills that allowed me to notice and assess the painful sensations throughout my body without my mind turning up the pain volume. I didn’t realize when I started cultivating these particular skills just how crucial and widely applicable they’d be.

I don’t let my mind take me off course.

Minds are masterful excuse generators. They are SO GOOD at making up reasons and giving us justifications for not doing hard or uncomfortable things. Part of the psych strength work I’ve been focusing on lately is noticing when my mind is giving me those excuses, even the really plausible, completely rational sounding ones like “You just fell. You can’t run anymore.”

The reality is, I was stunned, slightly embarrassed, and in pain, but I wasn’t really injured. I saw the Excuse Generator for what it was and quelled it before it even had a chance to really get going.

I am not afraid of failure.

This one hasn’t always been true me. As a (mostly) recovered perfectionist, I’ve had to do a lot of work to redefine my relationship with failure so that it doesn’t hold me back, and it’s an ongoing process. Even after all the work I’ve done, deep down I still don’t like being wrong, making mistakes, or failing. It’s disappointing, and it hurts, especially when you’re feeling really confident and don’t see it coming.

That said, I am getting much better at picking myself up, dusting myself off, and persevering despite bruises (to my body or my ego). I’m steadily working on becoming the kind of person who Is not afraid to falter, who can own mistakes without internal angst, and who can even find the humor in my biggest fails.

I am grateful.

So here I am, a 40 year old woman with a bandaged up skinned knee and a deep sense of gratitude. I am grateful for the work I’ve done to build my psychological strength, for the community who supports my journey, and for the opportunity to help others.

I practice what we teach at Peak Mind every day, and it’s had a real impact on my life experience. I want the same for you.

That’s why we created ASCEND, our most comprehensive endeavor to date. ASCEND includes the best of everything we know that goes into building psychological strength.

You, too, can have a strong sense of who you are and be the kind of person you want to be. You, too, can pick yourself up and move forward through painful times. You can build skills like mindfulness and acceptance, and you can learn to find the bright spots even in the darkest moments. 

You won’t regret the effort you put into building psychological strength. I know I haven’t. 

“Failures are like skinned knees, painful but superficial.”
– Ross Perot
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Be Like Gerda: Finding Gratitude in Darkest Times

Profound Conversations

Among many Holocaust survivor stories, few compare to that of our friend, Gerda.

You know those conversations that just stick with you? The ones that don’t necessarily seem significant at the time but that worm their way into your memory, take root, and blossom into something that fundamentally shifts your worldview?

Have you ever had that experience second-hand? When you weren’t even a part of the original conversation, you just heard the recap?

I have, and I want to share that with you.

Gerda’s Story

A few years ago, back before Peak Mind was even a consideration and April had just gotten into podcasting, she and I were catching up on the phone talking about grateful people and stories of gratitude. She told me about a recent guest she had just interviewed, a woman who survived the Holocaust. April told me that in their conversation, the woman (who I now know is named Gerda Weissman Klein) remarked to her that no one ever talks about the good parts of the Holocaust. 

EXCUSE ME?! The good parts of the Holocaust? There were GOOD parts of the greatest human atrocity of modern times? Anne Frank must have left that chapter out of her diary.

Gerda told April about the compassion and support and friendship and sacrifice amongst the Jews in the concentration camps.

The atrocities of the second world war with forced labour of men, women, and children, being deported to Auschwitz, seeing friends and family members taken to the gas chambers are too much to bear. I can’t even begin to imagine the hardships and suffering that Holocaust survivors had to endure, and I was blown away that one would highlight the bright spots.

Honestly, I was blown away that there were any bright spots.

That fact speaks to some of the strengths of the human spirit.

Finding a bright spot, something to appreciate or be grateful for, doesn’t negate the pain, the suffering, the hardship, or the adversity you are facing. Those things are real, and they’re there. They’re hard to ignore, and they tend to demand and hold our attention.

Finding Gratitude 

In my clinical practice, I often teach both kids and adults about our brain’s natural negativity bias, the importance of finding a “but at least” in every crummy situation, and the power of gratitude (there are SO MANY psychological and physical benefits, trust me). I am often, however, met with a version of “But this sucks! There’s nothing good about it.”

That’s when I share my second-hand conversation with Gerda. If she can find something to be grateful for during the Holocaust, I’m pretty sure we can find something here in the United States.

The attitude of gratitude – or the act of finding and focusing on those bright spots –  helps us have a more balanced view of our experience. It helps us to be strong and resilient. It gives us a lifeline to cling to when it feels like we’re drowning.

Don’t short-change this practice, though, by quickly naming things you should appreciate. Seek out the unique bright spots for that day, and when you find one, savor it. Really focus on it, tap into that sense of gratitude, and hold on to it for just a little while (10-12 seconds to be exact. That’s about how long it takes positive stuff to get encoded in our memories, in contrast to the negative stuff that gets socked away pretty much instantaneously).  

And as you work to find your bright spots during difficult times, please don’t let gratitude become a sneaky way to shame yourself. “You’ve got a roof over your head and food to eat. You should be grateful. Why are you struggling?” or “There’s always a bright spot. Why can’t you find it? What’s wrong with you?” Commence the self-criticism spiral. 

In those moments, perhaps the bright spot is simply that you tried; amidst everything else going on, you tried, and that speaks to your strength.

Whether your circumstances in this pandemic make it easy or difficult, I implore you to find something to feel grateful for each and every day.

Be grateful.

Be strong.

Be like Gerda.

“I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives, but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up. The darker the night, the brighter the dawn, and when it gets really, really dark, this is when one sees the true brilliance of the stars.” 
 – Gerda Weissman Klein

 P.S. If you want to hear Gerda’s powerful story, here’s her interview with April.