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How Gratitude Lets You Keep it Together When Things Fall Apart

Ghandi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” But what if the world starts shaking you?

Shake back.

Even the most upbeat among us get despondent when life gets complicated. Dr. Britta Larsen DeMartini, a psychologist and assistant professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego, said anxiety and emotional overwhelm are common complaints these days, and it’s no wonder. When people feel like they’re losing control, they start feeling gloomy.

“Depression creeps up when you feel helpless,” she told Project Thankful. “One of the best ways to ward it off is to do something active. Find some piece of the world you can make a little better. You don’t have to fix everything — just find one thing you can improve. And honestly, I don’t think it’s just a touchy-feely philosophy, I think it’s actually what’s going to make all the difference.”

We asked some Thankful people what they do to stay up when the world gets them down. Some strategize ways to get involved in their communities, others take rejuvenating breaks to focus on self-care (naps and chocolate, anyone?). All of them agree, to feel good you need to think good thoughts and, more importantly, do good things.

Mobilize from Your Own Backyard

Theresa, a student and mom of two in Burbank, Calif., was brainstorming ways to stay calm and constructive in a troubling political climate. (There’s only so much you can do between classes and carpools.) She came up with the clever idea to host a postcard party, allowing her to activate other community-oriented folks without even leaving her house.

“We’re thinking of getting the word out on Facebook, Nextdoor, etc., so we can get together with other civic-minded people in our community and write to local, state and federal leaders about the specific concerns we have,” she said. “Just trying to find some way to stay productive.”

Accentuate the Positive

Laura from Bountiful, Utah, is making an effort to keep track of the inspirational things going on around her.

“I’m starting to write down or vocalize to someone one good thing I see happening in our country every day,” she said. “Sometimes it’s something that I’ve done. Sometimes it’s something [someone else has] done. I see more and more people becoming more vocal, more insistent, more agitated for good. I see these things as all positive, against — and maybe even because of — the odds.”

Look for the Helpers

When Adrienne from Seaside, Oregon, dwells on things she can’t control, her optimism gives way to sadness and anger. That’s why she’s taking a page from the Mr. Rogers playbook and looking for the helpers. When it comes to bad news, she says, “I’m fairly certain that…all of the people trying to find ways to make a difference are the positive spin.”

Gratitude is giving Adrienne the strength she needs to ward off despair and focus on creating Thankful Moments for herself, her family and everyone else.

“I’m trying to be thankful to be surrounded by so many loving people, and trying to figure out what on earth I can do to make a difference.”

Make no mistake — these women are optimistic, not complacent. They’re energized. Fired up, ready to go.

Being thankful in trying times doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to make things better; it gives you the strength to see that in your quest to make the world a better place, you’re not alone.


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