by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC
The power of gratitude continues to be examined and highlighted by researchers in the field of mental health as it can aid in improving physical and psychological well-being. When we focus on ideas, relationships, achievements and accomplishments, privileges, and our own resilience, it is possible for us to reduce our stress levels and gain a broader perception of our current life circumstances. By opening up to a stance of gratitude, we can reduce our feelings of shame and belief that we have somehow failed or missed the mark of our expectations by acknowledging all that we have gained, learned about, and grown from.
When we express our gratitude with others, we are also building a healthier connection with others. By acknowledging how someone has impacted us or what we appreciate about another person’s characteristics or emotional impact on our lives, it can improve our sense of connection and attachment in our relationships. Gratitude with others can be as simple as a ‘thank you’ or a written letter.
In appreciating what we already have in our lives-material possessions, relationships, opportunities, and even our past decisions and behaviors- we allow ourselves the opportunity to see our own agency in our lives. To be able to look at our lives and describe in detail what we have gained, we are also validating our ability to overcome obstacles and challenges and bring light into our lives even during periods of darkness. We have the ability to see opportunities for growth even in the muck of what may be the hardest period of our lives.
We can explore the concept of gratitude in our own lives through the visual mode of artmaking. No matter what we are going through or where we are in our lives, it is possible to practice gratitude and reflect on what we are grateful for. By using art as a way to express our gratitude, we can use colors, images, words and three dimensional creations to express these sentiments and ideas in a symbolic and personal way.
Here are some ideas that you may want to consider in your next art therapy session or something that you may want to try at home:
Create a gratitude journal- write down 3-5 ideas reflecting what you are grateful for in that day and how you can take that gratitude and let it guide you in how you are feeling about yourself, others and your own decisions
Create a gratitude image- consider meditating on and visualizing the people, places and things that you are grateful for and allow yourself to create an image with these ideas. Place your image near your desk, bed or other frequented room in your home so that you are able to look at it often.
Gratitude tree- you can draw or paint the trunk and branches of a tree on paper or canvas and then add cut-out leaves to the tree branches that contain words reflecting what you and your family are grateful for. You can also collect medium sized branches from outdoors and hang paper leaves on the branches with yarn or string to reflect what you are grateful for. This can be a year long process that you and your family continue to add onto and then restart at the beginning of the New Year. This also provides an opportunity to remember and reflect on memories and events that have occurred and add to positive family narratives.
Gratitude Sun- for young children, you can simply place a circle in the middle of the page that says “I am grateful for” and have your child write in each of the sun rays what they are thankful for.
There are many ways to express gratitude and often this can be a helpful tool when working with symptoms of anxiety and depression to reduce stress and increase a sense of resilience and hope.
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