Use Visual Reminders: taking pictures of the things you feel grateful for is an excellent way to practice gratitude. However, many of us end up not seeing those pictures unless we print them. Looking at visual reminders, like pictures, can quickly remind you of the things you feel thankful for.
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 Dulce Orozco.
Dulce Orozco is a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts, her first language is Spanish and she is also fluent in English and Portuguese. Dulce has extensive experience working with individuals who themselves and/or their families are not native to our country. Because of her personal and professional experience, she is fascinated by the role that culture has on our mental health and how we perceive ourselves. She currently has a private practice where she is working remotely with adult women that feel like outsiders and have a very hard time taking care of themselves.Dulce Orozco, LMHC Latina Immigrant Therapist
Latina Immigrant Therapist in Massachusetts working with women part of minority groups, and from immigrant families…www.dulceorozco.com
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?
Absolutely. I was born and raised in Venezuela and came to the United States after graduating from high school. Ever since I was a teenager, I knew that I wanted to do something related to psychology; however, no college or university offered psychology as a major in my hometown, so my parents asked me to choose something else. As a teenager, two people that I loved had suicide attempts, and one of them died by suicide. I knew that this could have been prevented, which made me want to become a therapist even more. Growing up in a place where going to a therapist, unfortunately, is not an available option for many people was a big part of this decision. I came to the United States with the plan of studying English for a few months before starting college in Venezuela, and after applying for a scholarship without telling my parents, I was able to move and go to school in Boston, where I studied psychology a major.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I am not sure if this counts as a story, but I found it very interesting that I’ve been working with Latinos and immigrants for most of my career because Spanish is my first language. I now feel very passionate about how culture plays an essential role in our mental health and how we see the world. It is fascinating to me that even though it was not my intention to work with people from minority groups and immigrants like myself, this turned out to be something I love and an area in which I now specialize.
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?
I love the quote “Balance is not something you find is something that you create” by Jana Kingsford. I think a lot about balance, and I love how this quote reminds me that it is our responsibility to create that balance. It is so easy to blame others for everything, and even though blaming someone else might feel good at the time, it can feel even better to know that when we take responsibility for something, we can also have the power to fix it. Thinking about balance is very helpful to me, especially when I see things in black or white. Having a balance within these two extremes is very important since it allows me to have a whole new perspective on things, and when this happens, I can recognize the things in my life that I am grateful for.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
I have been giving the book Fierce Joy: Choosing Brave Over Perfect to Finding My True Voice to friends and colleagues as a gift. I have been following the author’s blog for about four years and was very excited when she announced that she would publish a book. The book is About Susie Rinehart’s story of being diagnosed with a brain tumor and how this changed her life. I’ve had the pleasure of virtually meeting Susie, and her outlook on life is just something I want to show to the people in my life. We receive the message that we have to be perfect and do it all without asking for help, and it was so inspiring and uplifting to hear someone like Susie saying how she chose to leave perfection behind and enjoy life. This is something that I am trying to do and that I am trying to teach my daughters. Especially being a Latina immigrant, it is easy to feel pressure to excel in everything and constantly prove to others my value and worth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes!!! I am working with Latinx employees in monthly groups, and I love it. I am very grateful for all the employers and companies investing in their employees’ mental health and trying to offer what they need depending on their cultural backgrounds. Having open discussions about what it means to be part of a minority with other Latinos, has been empowering and meaningful. I am also offering an interactive workshop on handling cultural messages while taking care of ourselves, which can help people remember that no matter what society says about them, they have the ultimate decision to choose how these messages can impact their lives. It may sound simple but keeping in mind that you decide what to believe in can be really helpful when you are part of a minority group or an immigrant.
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 decided to leave the place where I was doing my grad school internship because of how disorganized it was and because I felt that it didn’t align with my values. By the time I decided to do this, most internship placements were already filled up. Little did I know that in the new place I found, my supervisor at the time was going to become a very important person in my life. Thirteen years later, Howard Schnairsohn is now a part of my family. As a young professional and trying to build a life and a career far away from my family, having someone that believed in me along the way has been life-changing. Not only I gained the best mentor there is, but I also gained a second family here. I will be forever grateful for that terrible first internship for giving me the chance to meet this incredible person.
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 feeling good for the things you already have. We constantly want more things, bigger things, better things, and it is easy not to feel satisfied and even forget the things that we already have. When we practice gratitude, we automatically enter a tunnel of positive thinking since we force ourselves to focus on the good. Gratitude allows us to recognize the different things and people in our lives that we love, which is a fast way to feel better.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
We are used to giving thanks when things go our way. We have a tough time feeling satisfied with what we have and can even think that we are settling when we feel good about our situation. Most of us have learned to feel good when good things happen to us. Unfortunately, we forget that we can still practice gratitude when things do not go exactly like we expect. In fact, that’s when gratitude can be powerful the most since being able to look at the silver lining and finding things that we are grateful for when it gets challenging is life-changing. We don’t learn about the power of gratitude or even how we can practice it; teaching gratitude to children is a great way to make sure that they have it as a tool to use growing up and see it as something they can always turn to if needed.
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?
When we practice gratitude, we automatically choose to focus on the positive. This makes us feel better about ourselves and about our lives. When we practice gratitude, we look at the things we already have in our lives that we like and appreciate; recognizing these things is very important and even magical. Gratitude makes us stop and take an inventory of everything working well, not of what is missing or what we feel we need to be happy. Doing this inventory every day can make our bodies, minds, and souls feel better; that way, we can increase our physical health and mental health and be more connected to what matters to us.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
We are used to think negatively; after all, this helped us survived many years ago, and our brain is still wired this way to protect us from dangers that may exist only in our minds. Practicing gratitude is the expressway to see what is good in our lives. This will automatically make us have more positive thoughts, and once we do this, it is easier for us to continue on a roll with these thoughts. This can make us feel more motivated to do things and attract the things and situations that we want in our lives. Gratitude can be a door to see all the great things we already have in our lives that can challenge the negative thoughts that say we are not good enough.
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?
- Use Visual Reminders: taking pictures of the things you feel grateful for is an excellent way to practice gratitude. However, many of us end up not seeing those pictures unless we print them. Looking at visual reminders, like pictures, can quickly remind you of the things you feel thankful for. This can also give you proof of all the things you already have in your life that are good, especially during those days when things are not going your way or when you feel that nothing good ever happens. You can even create your own gratitude wall with all your pictures in it; for some people, this might be a picture of their families, their pets, a marathon they finished, a paycheck, whatever it is that represents what you feel grateful for is no straight answer.
- Do the gratitude flip: this may be by far the hardest; however, it may also be the most important one. Being able to feel grateful when things are not always going your way is the real power of having an attitude of gratitude. It is easy to be thankful when everything is excellent, but a whole different ball game to do when things are not so good. If you can still see even one small good thing when this happens, you can change your attitude about the situation. Even if you can’t see that one positive thing you can be grateful for, you can say to yourself: I know that it is tough to feel gratitude right now, BUT this will change, and I will soon be able to look at things differently. Saying something like that may be a way to open to the possibility that there is still a way to feel grateful even in the darkest times.
- Have a gratitude Buddy: have you heard about the concept of how exercising with someone else can be helpful? The same thing applies here. When you practice gratitude with someone else, you are accountable and, therefore, more likely to do it. This can also be a very bonding experience since hearing and sharing what you are grateful for with others is very powerful. We have a family gratitude journal, and hearing what my 5- and 3-year-old daughters are thankful for is really fun and endearing. This can also be a different way to interact with that particularly negative person in your life since just by practicing gratitude, you have to turn on the positivity switch; therefore, it may be a way to force that person to start thinking in more constructive ways.
- Take it to the next level: thinking about what you are grateful for is a great start; however, it is easy to get distracted with different things in your mind and stop doing it. Try to not only think about it but write it down; when you are writing something down, you are more likely to finish writing the word or the sentence than when you are just thinking about it. Some experts suggest that even saying what you are grateful for aloud can be more powerful than writing it down. Also, you are more likely to do something new, like practicing gratitude when you add it to something else that you are already used to do. Can you write down what you are grateful for while you have your morning coffee? Can you say out loud what you feel thankful for while you take a shower? That way, it may be easier to remember to practice gratitude and, therefore, feel better.
- Have Gratitude Rituals: Creating your own gratitude rituals can be a great way to leverage the power of gratitude. I started watching sunrises on birthdays; there is something significant about watching the sunrise and thinking that I am alive on that great day; however, your gratitude ritual does not have to be that elaborate. It can be having a bath after a tough day, giving thanks that the day is over, or ending the working week by ordering take-out; whatever it may be, make it yours and enjoy it. It does not matter what it is; what matters is what it means to you.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Yes, if we keep our gratitude journals, or even if we don’t have a journal but have a list of the top 5 things we are grateful for and put it in a place where we can see it, reading that when we are feeling down, vulnerable or sensitive, is a way to remind us that we already have things in our lives that we are grateful for. When we are feeling this way, it is easy to continue having similar thoughts and to concentrate on everything in our lives that is not going well; that’s why when we change the way we are thinking by remembering things that we are grateful for, this will remind us of all the good things that we have. Some people say that hope is like a muscle that you can exercise and make stronger, and the same can happen with gratitude. If we think of gratitude as a muscle that can get stronger, practicing daily gratitude exercises can definitely help.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
Yes. I have to confess that I am just getting into podcasts now. There is one that I really like called Mayim Bialik’s breakdown, where she and her boyfriend Jonathan invite different people to talk about their mental health. I love how easy it is for them to have difficult conversations and how gratitude comes out in many episodes. I also really enjoy looking at the illustrations of Molly Hahn, called Budda Doodles, which always warm my heart. Budda Doodles have a daily cartoon that gives us ways to handle difficult times. As I already mentioned before, Fierce Joy: Choosing Brave Over Perfect to Find My True Voice by Susie Rinehart is a book that can make us feel gratitude and appreciate our lives more. I recently started listening to The Humble Rising Podcast hosted by Arivee Vargas, and as a Latina listening to other women of color’s success stories is an open the door to gratitude. However, my main reminder would be that we can always turn to appreciation no matter what podcast we listen to or what book we are reading. Little by little and with constant exercise, it is possible to strain the gratitude of whatever is in front of us.
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. 🙂
Over the years, I’ve heard many people telling me that they wish they could be the same person they were before going through something difficult in their lives, and my answer is, really? I understand how we can wish that hard and painful things did not happen, but at the same time, hoping that we could be the same person we were before any of it happen would mean that we did not learn anything out of it. Life teaches us lessons, and we are continuously changing; we are not the same person we were yesterday, and that’s normal; it is how it is supposed to be. My movement would be to invite everyone to come up with a reframe, and whenever we wish we could go back in time, think instead of how we are a stronger person because of what happened and practice gratitude for how this experience made you better taught you so many things. This movement is a mix of practicing gratitude and acceptance to seeing how we are continuously changing from what happens to us.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
I will be honored if your readers decide to follow me. They can find me online at https://www.dulceorozco.com/
and on Instagram and Facebook at @dulce.orozco.lmhc.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you. Having the opportunity to share this with your readers is something that I feel very grateful for.