Was that it then? Had I flunked? Flunked gratitude? Flunked life, for that matter?
I stewed in this state of misery for a couple of weeks before confiding in my therapist and a close friend. They had actually noticed this change, but hadn’t known its depths, and helped me take the action necessary for needed change to occur. I was quickly scheduled with my doctor, who prescribed a new medication, and my therapist helped me put into place a layered support plan, wherein I got the support I needed without having to lean on any one person too much, either in reality or in my own perception. This was so important for me, because, like many people, I hesitate to ask for help, in part because I feel like I would be asking too much of someone.
In another couple of weeks, the new medication was working, my mood was noticeably better, and the effects of my continuing gratitude practice could once again be seen. Light started to arise at the end of the tunnel; the tears of the Phoenix turned to diamonds as she began her return from the ashes. At this point, I returned to social media, and as I was still in the gratitude group, began to post again.
I explained my absence in private to a few people, as I wanted to allay any concerns that might have arisen, as I had been a prominent and daily poster in the past. The reaction was not what I expected, though. While there was some concern mixed in, the more prominent reaction seemed to be that of believing that my posts of gratitude, both prior and at the time of my return, were somehow “fake.”
I was astonished by this, for while not everyone has to live with clinical depression and anxiety, I know that there are periods of time – days, perhaps weeks or months – when the best of us struggles to be grateful even when it is an ingrained habit. This is what I had gone through: a couple of months of struggle, not months on end of pretending to be grateful and posing as someone I truly wasn’t.
I chose the path of silence, however, and continued my interactions with the group. As before, I gained as much as from the daily posts of others as I did posting my own gratitude. It is my theory, based on personal experience and seeing the experiences of others in the group, that gratitude is multiplied by the number of people practicing it. My gratitude journal I kept on my own was effective, but my journaling in the gratitude group brought me a greater sense of meaning.
Happiness researcher Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential, has found through his studies that although each person has a genetic happiness “set-point,” and environmental factors also play a key role in happiness, these account for only about 40% of a person’s happiness; behavioral factors account for the other 60%. These studies have also shown that, for lack of a better term, happiness has a “contagion” factor, as Achor puts it. Rather than being airborne like a virus, however, happiness’ “contagion” factor is due to the involvement of the mirror neurons of your brain. An example: when you give someone a genuine smile while looking them in the eye, odds are they will smile back at you. This is due to the mirror neurons in your brain firing at the same time as the mirror neurons in the brain of the person you are smiling at.
I believe gratitude has somewhat of a contagion factor, having experienced this personally. This may be due to the increase it does lead ot in a person’s happiness when practiced regularly, times the number of happy people you are around. I don’t know; I’m not a researcher, just a blogger (and amateur theorist!) What I do know is what gratitude has done in my life.
It lifted me up out of the ashes of my depression to happiness, not once, but again and again. There were, of course, other factors involved, and you may attribute this rise to whichever of them you wish: the medications, the therapy and doctors, my friends and family, my spirituality, and the rest of my coping skills. Gratitude certainly played an outsize role, however, and without its practice, I don’t believe I would have made it.
“But.. what’s the rest of the story about the group?” I hear. “What’s wrong with ‘Choose happiness?” Nothing, really. I try to choose happiness on a daily basis when I wake up in the morning. Some days it works and others I don’t do so well at it, but I do try to live that philosophy. As someone with lived experience with mental health conditions, though, I need to be very gentle with myself about how I perform with those expectations. I have a habit of mentally beating up on myself for not meeting my own expectations, so I have to set firm boundaries about not allowing other people to do the same about putting their own expectations upon me.
Ultimately, I think the group leader was right. I do better at gratitude with my own tribe, with the people who like and love me for who I am, as the old saying goes, “warts and all.” I respect the group this leader has formed and the work she has done, and wish her the best. With luck, she wishes the same for me.