Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Gratitude in Times of Trouble

Can a gratitude notebook help?

Am I the last person to read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project? Maybe. But, I tend to watch as the bandwagon marches by my door.

As a blogger focused on hope and mental health promotion, I've been meaning to read The Happiness Project for a while. Rubin took a year of her life to test-drive various strategies for improving happiness. Each chapter chronicles a month of the year. I'm now in chapter 8, the month of August, during which Rubin focused on spirituality.

In it, Rubin analyzes the three strategies she tried as ways to connect with her spiritual side: reading memoirs of catastrophe, keeping a gratitude notebook, and imitating a spiritual master.

I read memoirs of catastrophe all the time. I'm very drawn to catastrophe - crime dramas, ill-fated family sagas, tragic diagnoses. I think all of my friends and family would agree that I'm already using this strategy to advance my happiness. I am, in fact, the girl who brings up catastrophe at a dinner party because I really, really want to talk about it. No matter that talking about subjects like death makes other people uncomfortable.

See All Stories In

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

For someone like me, who is so comfortable contemplating death, loss, or tragedy, Rubin's second strategy - keeping a gratitude notebook - is more of a challenge. Because I'm naturally drawn to, well, negative things, it's harder for me to notice the positive. Sure, part of what I get out of reading about other people's struggles is an appreciation for my good fortune. But, I also have a hard time staying focused on the positive when there is so much negative around me.

While, yes, there's a part of me turned off by the seemingly-inauthentic idea of purposefully seeking at least one thing a day for which I am grateful, there's another part of me that knows that's a good idea. It's the part of me that was moved by the story of the 9/11 survivor tree, a symbol of resilience amidst great tragedy. The same part of me who, when talking about my work with violence, injury, and suicide, makes sure to emphasize that I work in prevention.

It's a lot easier to get stuck in a negative place than it is to draw yourself into a positive place. A daily (or weekly, or whatever structure or schedule you can begin) acknowledgement of what's good in your life is a way to bring yourself closer to a positive place. What's in your gratitude notebook?  

If, like me, you're a bit behind on a book that spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list, you can click right over to Gretchen Rubin's blog on Psychology Today.

Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

more...

Subscribe to Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?