If you are going through a divorce, especially now as the holidays are arriving, you may be finding it difficult to cultivate thankfulness. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is stressful. The holiday season can actually make some people feel worse, because of the high expectations that this should be a happy and festive time of year. Still, if you have agreed with your spouse to use a collaborative method like divorce mediation to restructure your family, you do indeed have at least one thing to be grateful for.
Benefits of Mediation
Taking your divorce out of the courtroom can go a long way toward alleviating stress. Litigation tends to force divorcing spouses to face off as enemies, increasing hostility and conflict. By contrast, couples who choose to approach issues through a collaborative process can preserve the positive aspects of their relationship. If you have children, this can be a big step toward making their holidays happier.
The many advantages of mediation include the following:
- The process is more flexible than adhering to crowded court calendars and formal court procedures.
- It is often much faster than going through the courts.
- It is usually cheaper, and sometimes much cheaper, than litigation.
- The participants maintain control over the results.
- Participants are able to preserve confidentiality.
- The focus on mutually beneficial results tends to reduce conflict.
- Children benefit when parents maintain positive interactions and open lines of communication.
Practicing Thankfulness is Worth the Effort
Mediation is a small consolation prize for the often overwhelming feelings of loss connected to divorce. Science tells us though, that changing focus is likely to be worth the effort. People who intentionally and regularly practice thankfulness not only experience more positive emotions, they also tend to sleep better, and they may even have stronger immune systems.
Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat newsletter recounts research on the positive effects of practicing gratitude. In one study, psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough asked three groups of participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on one of three topics. The first group wrote about events that had inspired feeling of gratitude. The second group wrote about daily irritations. The third group also wrote about events that had affected them, but without any direction to focus on either positive or negative effects. After 10 weeks of participation, the “gratitude” group expressed increased positive feelings and greater optimism. The researchers also found that this group was exercising more and had fewer doctor’s visits than the group that had expressed irritations.
Another leading researcher in positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, found that people who were directed to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude once a week to someone they had not previously thanked for an act of kindness immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness. Still other studies show that expressing gratitude for another person not only builds positive feelings toward that person, but can also make it easier to speak up to that person about problems in the relationship. This latter point may hold a helpful tip for mediation participants. While it might seem counterintuitive, focusing on what has been good in your marriage could make it easier to stand up for yourself in mediation.
Why Practicing Thankfulness, or “Gratitude,” is Effective
There is a pretty simple explanation for why expressing gratitude might make someone feel better. It’s a matter a focus. When we are so overwhelmed with sadness and worry that such feelings block out the positive aspects of our lives, it’s easy to go into a downward spiral. Practicing gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack—and it seems to work even if the only reason we are doing it is because someone else told us to! So give it a try. You have nothing to lose but a few minutes of time each day, and the benefits could be tremendous.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
Healthbeat suggests a few ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis, including the following:
- Writing a thank-you note. Is there someone who has stood by your side throughout your marital strife? Express your appreciation of that person with a note. You can send it, or you can read it to the person aloud. This method has the side benefit of making the other person happier as well!
- Thanking someone mentally. Even thinking about how grateful you are to have someone to lean on can generate positive emotions.
- Keeping a gratitude journal. Taking a few minutes each day to jot down things you are grateful for is a tried and true method.
- Praying. If you are religious, prayer can be a wonderful way of cultivating gratitude, and the holidays are an ideal time for renewing faith.
- Meditating. If you favor a more secular spiritual practice, mindfulness may be the perfect choice. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for maintaining sanity during divorce. One variation on mindfulness meditation focuses on gratitude. You don’t need to set aside huge amounts of time for this. Joaquín, a positive psychology writer, points out that you can practice gratitude meditation in the amount of time it takes to brew your morning coffee. And as Healthbeat notes, gratitude can celebrate the smallest of things—the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, or the aroma of that eagerly anticipated first cup.
Even in our most troubled times, it is worth expressing thankfulness. No wonder we have an entire holiday dedicated to it!
The top mediation professionals at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC’s Mediation Center are deeply thankful for the privilege of helping those going through divorce arrive at a place of peace and joy. Contact us today for an initial consultation.