NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Is It Possible to Feel Gratitude Even When You're Sad?

I've written prior articles about gratitude for this psychotherapy blog (see: Psychotherapy, Balance and Gratitude,  Keeping a Gratitude JournalThe Importance of Expressing Gratitude To Your Spouse and Being in the Present Moment).  I'm focusing on a particular topic relating to gratitude in this article, which is a question that often comes up in therapy:  Is is possible to feel gratitude even when you're sad?

Is It Possible To Feel Gratitude Even When You're Sad?

It might sound pollyanaish or naive to talk about feeling grateful when you feel sad.  But cultivating an attitude of gratefulness on a regular basis helps you, especially during the times when you're not at your best.

Why is this?  Well, when you develop the ability to find things in your life that you can be grateful for, you're developing a particular skill that will help you during good times and bad.

In many ways, it's easier to focus on the things that aren't going well in your life and, at any given time, you might have numerous challenges.

But if you have developed a habit of looking for the positive things, the things that are going well in your life, no matter how small, it helps to alleviate some of the emotional pain that you might be going through.

Is It Possible to Feel Gratitude Even When You're Sad?

Developing a habit of noticing things to be grateful for doesn't mean that you're trying to deny that you have problems or that you're upset or depressed (see my article: What is the Difference Between Sadness and Depression?)

It's a way of getting a bigger perspective about your life and the people in your life that includes the challenges as well as the positive aspects.

So, how to you do this?

How to Begin to Develop the Ability to Notice Positive Aspects of Your Life:
If you've never tried to develop the ability to find the positive things in your life to be grateful for, you can start in small ways by jotting down things that were positive each day.  

Make a List:
This list can be as simple as the smallest things:  
  • Someone smiled at you and lifted your spirits for a moment.
  • You heard your favorite song.
  • You remembered a happy memory.
  • You heard from a friend.
  • You noticed a job online that you could apply for to get out of your current job.
  • Someone complimented you.
  • You found a parking space easily.
  • The sales assistant in the store was helpful to you.
Keeping a Gratitude List

And so on.

Getting into the habit of noticing the positive aspects of your life each day helps you to begin to be attuned to these experiences on a regular basis.

It can also help you to realize that, even though you might be sad, life is complex and good feelings can still coexist with sad feelings.

Once you've begun to notice that there are usually at least one or two things that make you feel good and that you can appreciate, you can learn to deepen these feelings by using the mind-body connection.

Using the Mind-Body Connection to Deepen Your Sense of Gratitude
It's not unusual, especially if you're feeling sad, to notice positive aspects of your day and experience them in only an intellectual way.

Experiencing something in an intellectual way is very different from feeling it on an emotional and physical level.

One way to go from experiencing these positive aspects from purely an intellectual perspective to deepening the feeling to an emotional and physical level is to use the mind-body connection.

One method that I use with my therapy clients when they're starting therapy is called "internal resource building."

When we're engaged in internal resource building (also known as developing coping skills), I ask clients to bring in 10 positive memories from their life, no matter how long ago it was and no matter how fleeting the memory might be.  If they can't come up with 10, I'll use whatever they bring in and that's just fine.

I ask the client to close her eyes, get back into the memory and notice what emotions and sensations she feels in her body.  Then, we use some form of what is called "bilateral stimulation" (from EMDR Therapy) to reinforce that feeling.

The bilateral stimulation can be done with "tappers" (one tapper in each hand) that provide alternate or bilateral buzzing in each hand.  This is done for only a few seconds to focus on the positive aspect of the memory and to try to prevent negative aspects from coming up so the memory remains positive.

Since you won't have tappers, you can use another EMDR therapy technique, which is alternate tapping.  Alternate tapping, which is a form of bilateral stimulation can be done by using your hands to gently tap, and it can be done in several ways:  

  • Alternate tapping of your leg--right leg, then left leg, back and forth (see Laurel Parnell's Book, Tapping In).
  • The "Butterfly Tap" where you cross your arms in front of your chest and do alternate taps of your upper arms
  • Bilateral music that goes from one ear to the other (see Bilateral Music).

The idea is that you're focusing on the positive emotion that you're feeling in your body, and this helps to strengthen the positive feelings.  

By strengthening the positive feelings, your experience of gratitude usually goes from an intellectual experience to a felt sense of gratitude.

It also provides you with a reprieve from your sadness.

So, to answer the question that I posed at the beginning of this article:  Yes, it is possible to feel both sadness and gratitude, but it can be challenging to feel gratitude when you're overcome with depression or unresolved trauma.  At that point, you might need the help of an experienced psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
There's a difference from feeling sad and feeling depressed.

When you're depressed, it's harder to access positive feelings and gratitude and you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist who has an expertise is helping clients to over come depression.

Depression is episodic and you can have multiple episodes throughout your life.  Getting help from a mental health professional can help you to overcome these depressive episodes so that they are shorter than they would be without help.

Getting help in therapy also helps you to develop the necessary coping skills to help you lead a more fulfilling life (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you've tried to cultivate an ability to feeling grateful, but emotional problems or a history of trauma are hindering you, rather than suffering alone, find a skilled therapist to help you through these challenges.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and adults.

I have over 20 years of experience as a therapist and I helped many clients to overcome their problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.