Gratitude and self-compassion: Acknowledging the good around and within us
Thanksgiving is a time when we typically reflect on, and give thanks for, all that is good in our lives. The many challenges faced this year, and holidays that will look and feel different without the joyful presence of extended family and friends at our table, may make it hard to think of positive things.
In a recent “Short Takes” Reflect and Recharge video shared with faculty and staff across University Hospital and Frankel Cardiovascular Center, Kelcey Stratton, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and program manager for Resilience and Well-Being Services for the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience, explained that during difficult times like these, it is even more important to acknowledge the good, not only around us but also within us.
Notice the good around you
“The ability to recognize the good things in your life is an important strategy for coping with stress,” said Stratton. “It can help you shift your perspective and perhaps feel a bit calmer and more grounded.”
She explained that practicing gratitude doesn’t mean you won’t experience sadness, anger or fear. However, gratitude creates room for seeing the joys in life as well as the suffering.
Stratton said good things can be small and fleeting, like moments that make you smile or provide a brief time of rest or connection. Good things might also be significant parts of your life, such as relationships, work or health – things that provide comfort and stability.
“These good things can be noticed and appreciated even in the midst of crisis,” said Stratton.
Journaling is one way to practice gratitude. One well-known exercise is to write down three good things that happened each day. Any good thing counts, simple or significant. An important second step is to then reflect on why each of those good things happened, or how you came to notice them.
“As you reflect on the causes, you are more likely to notice how the good things in your life are connected to something larger than yourself,” said Stratton. “Our experiences are often intertwined with other people, nature or technology.”
Stratton said recognizing the resources we have and noticing goodness around us can help create a heightened sense of purpose, connection or reverence.
Notice the good within you
Just as important as finding the good around you is recognizing the good within you. The ability to treat yourself with kindness, care and appreciation is a foundation for self-compassion.
Stratton said that during times of prolonged stress, it is common for people to feel overwhelmed, not good enough, or like they just can’t keep up with the many demands on their time and energy. It is also not unusual for people to feel discouraged or alone in their struggle.
“So many of us are harder on ourselves than we are on other people,” she said. “With self-compassion practice, we can become mindfully aware and nonjudgmental of those painful feelings and critical thoughts.
“It is important to recognize the good within ourselves, understand that other people share the same feelings, and acknowledge that we are deserving of comfort and care,” said Stratton.
Stratton recommends practicing kind language and actions to provide comfort to yourself in moments of pain, and recognizing that other people experience difficulties as well. The exercise below is based on the work of Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a leading researcher in self-compassion and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.
- First, take a moment and focus on your breath.
- Next, place your hand over your heart or on your arm.
- Now, say the following to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering
- This hurts
- This is stress
- Suffering is a part of life
- Other people feel this way
- I’m not alone; we all struggle in our lives
- May I be kind to myself
- May I give myself compassion
- May I learn to accept myself as I am
- May I forgive myself
- May I be strong
- May I be patient
- This is a moment of suffering
“Learning to see the good around us, and find the good within us, can take practice,” said Stratton, “especially during these difficult times.”
She said it’s normal and okay to struggle, and that suffering is part of the shared experience of human beings.
“Taking time each day to acknowledge the good things happening in our lives, and the good that exists within us, can help ease stress, strengthen our ability to cope during difficult times and create a brighter outlook,” Stratton said.
For confidential counseling at no cost, referrals, and information on how to address mental and emotional health concerns, faculty and staff can contact the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience at counseling.med.umich.edu, or by calling 734-763-5409.