Several years ago, Carl* came to my clinic because he wanted to try acupuncture for depression. Carl, a fiftyish businessman, felt that his life was a disaster and that the negative circumstances of his existence were the source of his depression. Carl hated his job, had difficulty with his co-workers, was single, and had few friends. During the time that I was seeing him, Carl relocated to a new community nearby, but he felt unhappy with the move. There was literally no part of Carl’s life that brought him joy.
When I work with patients, we take a look at the whole picture together; their physical health, lifestyle, diet, and emotional health. Carl was unwilling or perceived himself unable to make any changes whatsoever that would improve his life. He was depressed and unhappy, and would do nothing to change the negativity of his life.
In Chinese medicine, the source of depression is something called unfulfilled desires; basically wanting what you don’t have or living a life which is vastly different from the life that you want. While we all engage in wanting things, the problem occurs when that wanting becomes a source of unhappiness or chronic negative thinking.
This negative thinking is the stuff of Liver Qi stagnation. The Chinese Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of everything in your body and in your life, from your digestion to your emotions. Your Liver can become stuck, or stagnant, from frustration, inflexibility and strong emotions, especially anger. When your Liver becomes stagnant, the emotional frustration begins to affect you physically, and can cause a wide variety of symptoms, such as depression, fatigue, restlessness, and digestive problems.
I consider gratitude to be an antidote to Liver Qi stagnation. By practicing gratitude, you shift your thinking from one a negativity to one that is more positive about the circumstances, relationships, and events in your life. You realize that your glass is half full and your sense of wanting decreases. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, gratitude causes you to look outward, and see that life is good and that you have been showered with gifts. You just need to recognize them.
Scientific research backs up the physical and emotional benefits of gratitude. Researchers in two studies have found that people who keep a daily gratitude journal reported a decrease depression and stress. In addition, the subjects had an improved sense of well-being and a need to share their positive feelings by extending kindness to others.
In the United States, Thanksgiving Day is the one time of the year when we officially practice gratitude. However, I suggest that you make gratitude a daily exercise, it will improve your emotional health and the flow of your Chinese Liver. A few simple steps for practicing gratitude include:
- Count your blessings, especially when you’re feeling sad, depressed or feeling a lack of goodness in your life.
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you write down five things (or three things, or a hundred) for which you’re thankful each day.
- Say thank you more often and send thank you notes. This is a small way of acknowledging the positives in your life, and brightening the lives of others.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.