With Thanksgiving this week, I’ve been thinking about gratitude, which, for dementia caregivers, can be a difficult emotion to get in touch with. Thankfulness is not usually the primary feeling when you’re watching your loved one disappear under the dementing disease.
The Thanksgiving holiday has reminded me of an exercise I participatied in at a conference this summer. It was pretty simple:
There were two concentric rings of individuals facing one another. The atmosphere in the room was subdued and sleepy. It was the first event of the morning at a conference of church musicians. Few people knew one another.
We were to look the person facing us in the eye and then say one sentence of gratitude. Uncomfortable shuffling followed the instruction.
“Oh come on now,” the instructor chided. “It’s simple. Just say one thing you’re grateful for and the person facing you will tell you what they’re grateful for.”
So we began. I spoke about the beautiful day. The person facing me was grateful for safe travel. We switched partners. I spoke of the joy of singing. The person opposite me mentioned having a job that he loved.
And so it went for ten very short minutes. At the end of the time, the atmosphere in the room had changed markedly. There was energy and laughter where there had been subdued quiet before.
I tell you this story as a reminder during this Thanksgiving season that we can easily shift into a positive attitude by recognizing the many blessings in our lives.
Yes, it’s tough to be in the circumstances you find yourself in right now—caring for a loved one who is suffering from dementia. You’re dealing with the impact of this reality across your entire lifestyle and are probably finding it hard to find anything for which to be grateful.
But remember, it’s easy to move yourself into an attitude of gratitude, just as we did at the conference.
If you don’t have someone to bounce your statements of gratitude off of, then create a Gratitude Journal. Every day during the coming week, write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for. If you get on a roll, write down several, but the minimum requirement is one a day.
My guess is that by recognizing the things for which you’re thankful– no matter how small they may seem– you’ll find yourself living in a more positive frame of mind and with greater energy. And that, in itself, is something to be grateful for.
Studies suggest that a grateful person exudes a different demeanor, glow and attitude about life. Some marriage studies show a marriage focused on gratitude is five times more likely to succeed. Grateful people appear to be less susceptible to experience counter-productive emotional states like envy, anger, resentment, and regret.
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