I was eating dinner with a few friends. Suddenly, my phone rang, and I ignored it. It rang again. I figured it was important if the person was calling me again. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to see that my mom was calling. I let out a sigh, figuring it was something stupid. I answered the phone, and my mom muttered four words that haunt me eight years later, “The house caught fire.” I froze in disbelief. She continued on trying to hold back tears, “The house caught fire, and they can’t find your father.” I told my mom I would be there as soon as I could. My friends asked me if everything was okay. I informed them that my house caught fire and that I had to leave. I ran across campus from the college cafeteria to my car. I proceeded to cut my normally hour-long drive in half.
When I arrived at my house, I pulled up onto the shoulder across the street. It was pitch black outside by this point. I stepped out of my car. Through the light drizzle, I saw the outline of my house. Fresh smoke drifted upwards from the windows. I stood there for what felt like an eternity. I saw an unmarked cop car pull up behind me with his lights flashing. Out stepped a heavy set gentleman who meandered over to me. He barked at me asking, “Who are you?” I looked barely turned my head in his direction and responded, “I live here.”
As the days went on, more details became evident. A space heater was too close to a couch, catching fire. Nobody was home when it happened, and nobody (including my dogs) was hurt. My dad left only minutes prior, which is why nobody could find him at first. It was not done out of ill intent, but rather it was an accident. It did not make it any easier though. The damage was already done. The entire community knew what happened. My family was in shambles. I was homeless.
It took years for my family and me to recover. I saw several counselors, began a regimen of antidepressants, and started a long journey back to normalcy. This traumatic experience taught me an extraordinarily valuable lesson though when I laid my eyes on the structure that was left behind that night. Seeing your entire childhood, home, and possessions stripped from you in an instant quickly teaches you the importance of gratitude.
I adopted an “attitude of gratitude” from that point forward, and I saw its immediate benefits even with my self-care. When it came to the traumatic effects surrounding the fire, gratitude helped put a positive spin on all of the negativity. It eased the string a little reminding myself of what I still had and that the consequences were not worse such as losing a loved one. Also, it kept me grounded in reality. By focusing on what was actually within my reach instead of the plethora of “what ifs,” my mind did not stray down rumination trail. It provided a sense of control during a time of chaos.
Over time, I realized the long-term impact of gratitude. Gratitude fit well into the blueprint of catharsis. Catharsis is the process in which an individual releases strong emotions. As I mentioned, it took me years to make the necessary strides in my recovery from the trauma. A strong tool I utilized was catharsis. It started the first week after the fire. My initial reaction was one of shock. I showed little to no emotion for that first week. Finally, one night I was sitting at my desk back at college when it hit me. A waterfall of tears cascaded down my cheeks, and I just put my head down. The realization smacked me like a ton of bricks; however, this release was needed. Another notable cathartic moment was like when I visited my home several years after the fire on my own. It was my way of confronting my fears and feelings associated with the events. I cried when I went back and took pictures to serve as a reminder of what to be thankful for. Catharsis allowed my feelings an appropriate avenue to come up during times of self-reflection. It was in a safe environment where my emotions could be dealt with.
The other significant benefit I recognized was reciprocity. My relationships drastically improved because I expressed my gratitude towards those who were in my life and supported me. Showing appreciations towards my friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, and even strangers helps develop new connections and strengthen existing ones. People feel like the effort they are putting forth is being noticed. It reinforces their actions and increases the probability that these behaviors will continue in the future. Gratitude also generally spreads positivity. It feels good to do something nice for someone followed by even a simple “thank you.”
With that being said, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read this.
-The Caring Counselor
What is Gratitude and What Is Its Role in Positive Psychology? (2017, April 28). Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-appreciation/#concept