Gratitude In the Moment

We’ve all heard how important the practice of gratitude is when it comes to our emotional health. It’s easy to feel grateful when everything feels good and we’ve all made an effort to count our blessings at one point or another. But here’s a perspective of gratitude I don’t think you’ve heard before: Choosing to be grateful in the present. Not just think about the food you have or the clothes that you wear, but gratitude for whatever you’re experiencing right here, right now, even when things don’t go according to plan.

I know it’s sounds a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re going through something you don’t want to wish on anyone else. But how often do we think about the past and what we want to change? How often do we think about the uncertainty of the future? There’s so much in this world that’s outside of our control. Gratitude in the moment puts us right in the present.

You could see it as an extension of mindfulness, being more aware of what’s around you. It can be something as small as being grateful for the weather or the smell of a nearby flower or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a city, pay attention to the architecture of the buildings or whatever catches your eye. These are all things to be grateful for.

One other benefit of being grateful in the moment and mindful of our present surroundings is that, ideally, it compels us to put down our phones and actually pay attention. In spite of everything going on in the world, I sincerely believe we are lucky to be alive right now. I’m not saying the world is perfect, but I think being grateful for where we are right now can help us detach from the endless cycle of online debates and news of things that are out of our control.

Being grateful in the moment is a small drop in the bucket in terms of taking care of ourselves emotionally. Try practicing it today and see if it makes any difference. Put aside all regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. Be here now.

The Gospel of Happiness: A Book Review

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Interesting fact: I first met Christopher Kaczor, author of The Gospel of Happiness when he was giving a lecture at Cafe Catholica. His lecture focused on “The 7 Big Myths About the Catholic Church.” One of the myths he mentioned was that the Catholic Church doesn’t care about earthly happiness and he mentioned this book in his lecture.

The Gospel of Happiness looks into how the practice of positive psychology can be incorporated into a Catholic lifestyle. In spite of the preconceptions people have about psychology  and religion and the seeming incompatibility of the two, there are aspects of positive psychology that complement the teachings of the Catholic Church and these aspects are what the book chooses to focus on. The book is divided into seven chapters that look into how happiness, the theological virtues, prayer, gratitude, forgiveness, the practice of virtue, and willpower contribute to a person’s overall happiness and well-being.

One major issue people have with Christianity is “prosperity gospel.” And yes, I had a prosperity gospel phase. In recent events, however, my idea of happiness in Christianity is that it’s not so much of “prosperity gospel” as it is “providential gospel.” The difference is that prosperity gospel has unrealistic expectations of what God will give people and puts what people want ahead of what God wants, when taken to the extreme. Providential gospel is taking a cue from Mother Teresa: The Lord will provide for what you need, not necessarily what you want. The Gospel of Happiness takes a more realistic approach and cites research studies that show that unrealistic expectations contribute to overall unhappiness. It also looks into how to be happy even when enduring suffering.

One issue with prosperity gospel is that it tends to ignore suffering or just play it off as just part of having a negative mindset. The Gospel of Happiness, on the other hand, has a whole chapter about the benefits of forgiveness and the chapter on gratitude talks about how God can bring something good out of something bad. The book also goes against the secular mindset that people have to focus on making themselves happy as the number one priority. While a healthy self-love is definitely important, putting one’s ambitions and desires over the needs of others ends up leading to bad things in the long run. In the chapters that focus on virtue, Kaczor shows the benefits of kindness and doing good things for other people.

There were a lot of new things I learned from this book that I didn’t get from my phase of reading self-help books and listening to prosperity gospel. I know I use the word “depth” a lot when I talk about movies or books, but yeah, this book is full of depth. It goes deeper than just making goals or having faith. It actually lays out plans of action.

I highly recommend this book to people who want a different take on the self-help genre. Protestants can easily enjoy this book as much as any Catholic. I would even take a chance and show it to people who see themselves as spiritual but not religious. Because religion, despite what people think, isn’t a rigorous set of man-made rules. It’s a relationship. Religion is a relationship that a person has with God as well as the community of the world at large. Religion keeps a person grounded and humble. Or at least that’s what religion is supposed to be. And I think that’s what The Gospel of Happiness is really about.

The Catholic Guide to Depression: A Book Review

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It started with me wanting to do some further research on depression for a future project. A quick search throughout the internet led me to this book. Thanks to Dr. Aaron Kheriaty for sending me this book to review.

This book is one that must be read thoroughly. It’s not something you devour in one sitting or just skim through superficially. Like the disease of depression, this book takes time to read. Too many people have preconceptions of what “depression” is and fall into one of two extremes. The first one being that depression is just a chemical imbalance that can be easily solved with a few pills and maybe some therapy. The other extreme is that it’s a spiritual issue that doesn’t need medication to fix. This book finds a good medium between the two extremes.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on understanding what depression is and isn’t and the second part focusing on how to treat depression. The book as a whole takes a Catholic perspective that goes in depth on how the body and soul affect each other, rather than seeing the body and soul as separate entities as people often think today. This book describes depression as a complicated disease and I love the effort that Kheriaty puts into describing the symptoms and affects it has on the person in detail.

One interesting thing I found from this book is that there’s a difference between depression and what people call the “Dark Night of the Soul” as named by St. John of the Cross. The “dark night of the soul” isn’t depression as it is a purgation of everything that separates a person from God and allowing a person to share in the suffering of Christ. People who go through the dark night of the soul are given consolations and appear genuinely happy to the outside world. People with depression don’t get any consolation.

Whenever I say that a book needs “depth,” I mean to say that the writing needs to go beyond the superficial, glossy illusion of goodness and show the research and wisdom behind whatever one is saying. Feel-good books like Chicken Soup for the Soul are a great read as a quick fix, but this book acknowledges the darker sides of life instead of ignoring them and that’s what elevates this book as a great guide to those suffering from depression.

The book is woven with elements of Catholic spirituality, but it also says that there’s nothing wrong with finding a therapist who will treat the disease but isn’t personally Catholic or even a person of faith, so long as said therapist allows for the patient to integrate his faith into the therapy. I also liked that while Kheriaty understands the necessity of medication and therapy, he also acknowledges that many people take their medications unnecessarily and that some therapists may be wrong for the patient. Like with doctors, it’s a matter of trial and error and in this case, psychologists are “doctors to the soul.”

I recommend this book to those who feel like they are suffering from depression as well as for those who know someone who has this disease. Young adults especially should look into this book to learn what the difference is between being emo and true depression. I think this book would also be beneficial to psychologists who aren’t of any particular faith. One thing this book emphasizes is that just because a person has faith doesn’t mean that they are prevented from suffering. In fact, for Catholics, suffering is a part of life and depression can come to the greatest of saints. But there’s always the hope that God gives, like a lamp at our feet and the light in the path that guides us out of the dark.