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Embracing Gratitude in A Season of Reflection 

Dear Jefferson Center Community, 

During this season of introspection, when the weather grows colder and the days shorten, it’s only natural for us to reflect on gratitude and our complex mix of emotions.  

While some may eagerly anticipate reconnecting with friends and family during the upcoming holidays, others might not feel particularly thankful at this time of year. The season’s darkness can impact our mood, and the cold can limit our connection with the natural world. For those without family, reliable shelter, or those who are struggling with depression and loneliness, this can be a very difficult time. It’s essential to remember that all these feelings are valid, and also that we have the ability to choose how we respond to these feelings that arise. 

Gratitude may emerge within us spontaneously at times and be perceived as a feeling that we don’t necessarily control. It is also important to understand that gratitude can be an intentionally cultivated practice. Gratitude goes far beyond simply giving thanks and has a profound impact on our mental health and overall well-being, both in the short and long term. 

Research has shown that consciously practicing gratitude can reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, a single act of thoughtful gratitude can produce an immediate 10% increase in happiness and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms. When you actively cultivate gratitude over time, you stimulate your brain’s reward center, which can make you more resilient, improve your sleep, and even enhance your physical health. It’s a practice that requires daily effort, but one that is worthwhile to keep up. 

Practicing gratitude helps you tend to your emotional wellbeing, one of the eight dimensions of wellbeing listed by SAMHSA. In our daily lives, we often overlook small achievements, letting them pass unnoticed. But it’s equally important to celebrate these moments. So, think about your recent accomplishments, no matter how trivial they seem, and take a moment to express gratitude for them. Additionally, taking a moment to pause and reflect on how the actions of others have supported you in a moment of need, or brought joy to your day, can change your perception of the world around you. Taking the small extra step to express gratitude to others for the ways they touch your life brings powerful benefits back to you as well. 

However, what if you’re not feeling particularly grateful right now? That’s okay. We often view our moods and mental health through all or nothing filters, believing that if we’re not happy or grateful, we’re miserable and selfish. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many days will simply be “okay.” There are days when we will struggle to find the good in anything or anyone. This is part of being human, and an even greater challenge when we are struggling with our mental health or facing extreme hardships in our lives. The first step toward finding peace with your feelings is to accept them. But even on those darkest days, practicing gratitude can help you change the trajectory.  

Start small by acknowledging the basic elements that keep us alive: clean water, food, finding warmth in the cold, or a friendly smile from a stranger. Even our own breath can be a source of connection to the present moment and a reminder of gratitude for the life that we live. These simple things can be constants through our most modest moments. 

Think about what brings you joy and incorporate those elements into your daily life. It could be as simple as laughter, a comedy podcast, or spending time in nature. Maybe it’s a new hobby or an activity that has always filled your heart. Remember that you have the power to make choices that bring joy into your life. 

No matter your mood, struggles, or circumstances, remember that you are okay, and you are here on purpose. This awareness can lead to compassion for those around you and gratitude for the uniqueness of every person. 

In this season of change, I encourage you to reflect on gratitude. As we navigate the challenges of this time of year, let’s remember to practice gratitude, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. Thank you for being part of our Jefferson Center community, and remember that your journey is uniquely your own. 

With gratitude, 

Dr. Kiara Kuenzler CEO, Jefferson Center 

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