Use gratitude to protect against anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression affect millions of people globally. Even people who don’t have a clinical diagnosis can experience episodes of persistently depressed moods or excessive worry depending on life situations and stress.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Moore.
John is a shamanic practitioner and teacher with an MBA and a black belt in martial arts. He spent over 20 years working in high tech and now helps people live fuller, more intentional lives using humanity’s oldest form of spiritual practice. John has a regular radio segment, and was a columnist focusing on men’s health and spirituality for The Good Men Project. John hosts a podcast called Speaking Spirit, which has listeners around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
I spent about half of my life working in the technology industry and had a career, family, house in the suburbs. I was living what I thought was a perfect life. In my early 40s, everything crashed when I faced a severe physical and mental health challenge. They diagnosed me with PTSD because of childhood trauma. My physical health declined. I turned to therapy, naturopathic medicine, diet, exercise, meditation, supplements, you name it. My biggest concern was being able to show up as a good father to my children.
During meditation one day, I heard a clear voice say, “You need to learn shamanism.” I knew nothing about shamanism or even where to begin. I lived in Maine and thought I’d need to travel to Peru or Siberia to find a shaman willing to teach me. I started my search and found a vibrant community of people practicing shamanism near me. One woman was an internationally renowned teacher.
I contacted her, and after meeting and some discussion, she accepted me into an apprenticeship. I intended to heal myself and had no interest in working with others. Throughout many years of training, apprenticeship, and initiation, I came to love working with others. I had a particular affinity for working with people with a history of trauma and people going through their spiritual awakenings.
I taught martial arts for many years, so it was natural for me to shift into teaching. Shamanism is the oldest form of spirituality on Earth–going back at least tens of thousands of years. I deeply love connecting people with mind, body, and spiritual healing and helping them step into their power.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A few years ago, I was coaching a client who was a fantastic photographer and who had all but given up on her dream of having her photos shown in a gallery. She had put hard drives full of her work in storage and kept her camera in a closet at home.
I encouraged her to take small, inspired actions. She put her camera in her car so it wouldn’t be out of sight and mind. She scheduled outings to take more photos. Whether she ever got her pictures into a gallery, she was happier doing what she loved.
Within a couple of months, she coincidentally met a gallery curator looking for photographers for an upcoming show. He agreed to look at her work and accepted her into her first show.
In the spiritual world, many people are into the Law of Attraction. However, a lot of folks think that if you sit around on your couch and wish really hard, the Universe will drop your dreams in your lap. Maybe that happens sometimes, but it’s easier when you work in partnership with natural laws and become open to opportunities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Your opinion of me is none of my business.”
I don’t know who first said this. Lots of people has expressed this sentiment in a few variations, from Ru Paul to Wayne Dyer. It has always resonated with me because I have made the most progress in my life when I have ignored the opinions of those who wanted to hold me back. Most of the people I work with are held back from doing what they want because of the fear of disapproval from others.
When I see that in my clients, I imagine a world full of art, music, and creative inventions we could live in if people learned to surpass that fear. What would the world be like if people were free to achieve their full potential.
In my own life, I can think back to when I was a teenager. I was in marching band in high school, which already came with a “band nerd” moniker from other kids. I decided that I wanted to audition to become a drum major, leading the band. When I told my father, he expressed his disapproval and said to me that was “gay.”
In the late 80s, calling young men gay or comparing them to women were ways to keep them in check by making them feel unmasculine. It was pure toxic masculinity. For many young men, there was intense pressure to grow up and be like their dads.
Despite this, I auditioned and made the cut. It was a decision that led to many fantastic opportunities, such as touring Europe with an honors band and leading my high school band in a National Independence Day parade.
Today, between family, peers, and the Internet, there is no shortage of haters out there. Anyone who steps out in any way is bound to trigger the insecurities of others. Many of those insecure people compensate by trying to bring others down. They become haters.
It doesn’t matter who you are; you have far more to offer the world than the hatred trying to keep you down.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
I love so many books, but one I’ll specifically call out is The Inside Out Revolution by Michael Neill.
This book is about a model of reality called the three principles. There are no exercises or meditations, but the idea is just that reading or hearing the truth about how reality works can change your life.
When I started reading this book, I was going through a major depressive episode. I was sleeping, I couldn’t eat, and my brain kept telling me that my family would be better off without me.
I read this entire book one sleepless night. I was in a second-floor bedroom of a house in The Philippines. I remember I was hot and uncomfortable. I finished the book just as the sun was about to come up. When I closed the book, a rooster crowed outside, and I felt the heavy weight of depression lifting from me.
My body relaxed, and I could eat again that morning. I felt a sense of joy for the first time in months, and I remained happy for the rest of my time in the Philippines.
There’s no way I can explain this other than the premise of the book holds merit. A simple understanding of the principles governing our experience of reality can shift everything.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m most excited to be working on a book about “spiritual hygiene” from the perspective of shamanism.
Most people practice good physical hygiene to keep their bodies healthy, but many people are missing the boat to maintain a healthy mind and spirit. This work will introduce people to the idea that humans aren’t just bodies, and every part of us works better when we attend to ourselves as a whole.
A significant focus of my work is helping people realize and step into their power. You can’t do that without a complete set of resources. This book will help people operate in the world from a place of mental, physical, and spiritual sovereignty.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for Dory Cote, my teacher in shamanism. To me, she is a living example of what a teacher should be — compassionate yet fully capable of maintaining strict boundaries.
A few years ago, I was doing some advanced training with her at a big retreat center. There were many issues outside of her control, including the center letting unqualified people into an advanced class, the flu going around inside the dormitory, etc. Watching Dory handle this chaos without affecting the class was a big part of what inspired me to become a teacher.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
Gratitude is both the emotion of feeling appreciative and the things we do to express that feeling. The feeling is important, but so are the actions we take to show and express gratitude.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
People have a negative bias. We emphasize and more easily remember the “bad stuff” that happens to us. This is an evolutionary adaptation. When our ancestors went to the watering hole, it was necessary to remember when the sound in the grass meant a saber-toothed tiger was stalking them. Our ancestors, who had this negative bias, survived and had children. We’re the product of countless generations of a negative bias.
I also think that we are constantly bombarded with media that is profoundly negative. Natural disasters, war, and crime draw eyeballs in an increasingly competitive space. Social media is full of complaints, and trolls, and arguments. Divisiveness pervades.
These factors can make it difficult for people to feel gratitude.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Absolutely. Getting into and expressing a feeling of gratitude is one of the easiest and simplest ways to enhance your life. Almost every area of your life can benefit from gratitude. Gratitude enhances our physical health, mental health, and relationships.
One way gratitude can enhance our lives is by creating better relationships. People like to be thanked, and expressions of gratitude give people a more positive view of the person expressing thanks. Think about how that can extend to many areas of your life, from romance to your career to your other personal relationships. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where you’ve felt unappreciated, you’ll understand how destructive a lack of gratitude can be.
Another way that gratitude can enhance our life is it can give us a more realistic view of things. The old optimist vs. pessimist, glass half full vs. glass half empty comparison, shows how our perception of the world really frames our experience. Most of us have a fairly negative view of the world. We love to complain, catastrophize, and commiserate. Think about that word, commiserate; it means “being miserable together.” Yuck. One way to shift our outlook is to be grateful for the things we have.
We also take care of the things we are grateful for. If we are grateful for our relationships, we will tend to them. If we are grateful for our health, we will take care of it. People who are grateful for clean air and water will want to protect our environment.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
Gratitude is a simple tool to enhance mental wellness.
Our thoughts and feelings are intimately intertwined. Negative feelings lead to negative thoughts. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings. It is important to experience the full range of human emotions, but it’s only healthy when we don’t get stuck. Consciously choosing thoughts of gratitude can help to get us unstuck from an unwanted thought and feeling loop.
Daily gratitude practices like journaling or counting your blessings make people happier and reduce their stress. Studies have shown actual brain changes in subjects who do gratitude writing exercises such as letter writing and journaling. Activities mean to encourage feelings of gratitude may have long-term positive effects on the brain related to enhanced mental health.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
1) Use gratitude to protect against anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression affect millions of people globally. Even people who don’t have a clinical diagnosis can experience episodes of persistently depressed moods or excessive worry depending on life situations and stress.
Many research studies have shown that increased trait gratitude protects against depression and anxiety. Gratitude affects both your mood and your level of stress. This makes sense because it is very difficult to hold two opposing moods or ideas in mind at the same time. If you’ve ever been furious and then found something funny that broke that mood — this is an example of that.
When you ruminate, running negative thoughts over and over in your head, break through that by counting your blessings, expressing genuine thanks to someone, or even journaling.
2) Express gratitude to build a greater sense of self-worth. When we thank and appreciate others for their things, it reinforces the belief that we are deserving people. Beliefs grow stronger with evidence. As you gratefully accept the good things in life, it reinforces your worthiness.
Growing up, my family had this bizarre attitude around gifts. Whenever someone received a gift, they would act indignant and say things like, “you shouldn’t have,” or “this is too much.” I never understood this — was it supposed to make the giver feel good somehow? It certainly was good practice for feeling unworthy and shamed for giving gifts. I think it took a lot of joy out of holidays and birthdays for the giver and the receiver.
As an adult, I have made a conscious habit of gratefully accepting gifts. I make a habit of always accepting an offered cup of coffee, a meal, a glass of water. I feel good that others are thinking of me, and they feel good for being appreciated.
3) Foster closer personal relationships by expressing gratitude. Human beings are social, and positive relationships are essential to good mental health. When you express genuine gratitude towards others, it makes them feel good, strengthening the relationship. These bonds with people are an essential factor in staying healthy and happy.
Gratitude helps us feel closer to others by recognizing that much of what we have is because of others. For spiritual people, it helps us feel more connected to a sense of divinity.
My partner and her family have a wonderful tradition. They take little slips of paper and write things that make them grateful for other family members. These can be little things like, “I appreciate it when you made my favorite dinner on my birthday.” They put these small expressions of gratitude in a jar throughout the year, and, on New Year, they take them out one at a time and take turns reading them.
4) Enhance your physical health and boost your mental health. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” has been shown to improve health and even decrease mortality. In studies, people who experience more thankfulness tend to take better care of themselves — exercising regularly and eating healthy. They have shown an Increased sense of gratitude to boost the immune system, lower stress, and sleep better.
In a famous study from the 1990s, researchers compared the journals of nuns living in a convent for over 60 years. The nuns who had expressed more positive emotion and gratitude over time had better health. They lived, on average, an extra seven years longer.
When you develop a persistent feeling of gratitude, you benefit your mind, body, and spirit.
5) Keep a gratitude journal to develop a more positive outlook Journaling can help us process things, and it’s a great way to build good habits. Writing things down uses different parts of our brains than just thinking about things. Expression is healthy, and emotion is energy that wants to be in motion. Keeping a daily practice of writing things we are grateful for builds “emotional muscle,” getting us into a habit of getting into gratitude. It also can prompt us to think of more things to be grateful for.
When my children were younger, they had a lot of trouble sleeping. They had a lot of anxiety around bedtimes, which would sometimes result in nightmares. We bought them journals, and every night before bed, I would ask, “OK, what are ten things you’re grateful for today?” Then I would have them write them out in their journals, which led to calmer bedtimes and more peaceful sleep.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
When people are down or feeling vulnerable, it can sometimes challenge them to focus on the bigger picture. Our minds can get into rumination — rethinking the same negative thoughts over and over.
An excellent way to create a shift in thinking and break out of rumination is to make a task out of finding small things you appreciate. When you find yourself in that cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, challenge yourself to spend five minutes finding small things you appreciate. Some examples of things I appreciate right now are the electricity that powers my computer, the chair I’m comfortably sitting on, the clothes that keep me warm.
When you ask yourself a question, your mind automatically goes to work searching for answers. So ask, “what are the smallest things I can be grateful for in my life right now?” Your mind will become occupied with a joyous task that makes you feel better as you complete it.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I love the book, The Gratitude Project, which came out last year. It’s a collection of essays written about the science of gratitude but in a very accessible way. Besides scientifically describing the positive effects of gratitude, it has a lot of advice for practicing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to start a movement around love.
The world seems pretty divided right now. Under dogma and politics, all of the world’s major spiritual traditions teach a philosophy of love. I think genuine love can heal the divisions in the world, but most people do not know what that is.
It’s no wonder because, in English, I can say, “I love this cheeseburger,” or “I love my kids.” It’s the same word with vastly different meanings. True, deep, spiritual love is unconditional acceptance. I love and accept you, no matter how different we are, just because you exist. No matter who you are, you deserve more love, not less.
Imagine how healing it would be for more and more people to feel loved and accepted. That’s the movement I’m interested in.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I’m on Facebook and Instagram, and I host a regular podcast. The easiest way the find me online is by going to my website: www.MaineShaman.com.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!