Editor’s Note: This is Dr. Garmezy’s last “regular” column for the Badge & Gun after many years as a contributor from HPD Psych Services. She will remain a contributor, albeit not on a regular basis while she is in retirement.
“This is too hard,” Rebekah Taussig wrote in Time about 2020. Her partner had cancer. Pregnant, she was dealing with pain related to her lifelong wheelchair use. COVID complicated everything. She alternated between trying to find “trite silver linings” in the situation and giving up on the human race.
Some readers may feel as overwhelmed as she did. COVID has yanked away loved ones, blasted the economy and wrecked our lives in countless ways. Law enforcement is strained by the high alert necessitated by our domestic unrest.
When I encourage you, in this final regular column, to work on gratitude, I realize it’s a big ask. We can’t give up on the human race, even though it’s tempting. Taussig’s boyfriend and baby are well now. Good things still happen.
Psychologists know that keeping a gratitude journal, or just mentally listing three large or small events every day that you are grateful for –perhaps a pet’s welcome, eating a meal in peace, or a supervisor issue that melted away—results in an “attitude of gratitude.” If you have a quick laugh with a friend, it goes on the list.
You don’t have to write your list down. You don’t have to thank Anyone in particular, although you can. Just find three things that went right in the day, every day.
Noticing what’s right in your world builds appreciation for the present moment. Make it a habit, and you are likely to develop a lasting more positive outlook on life. Gratitude exercises appear to promote self-control, healthier relationships and reduced physical symptoms of stress. Some workplaces are experimenting with the technique to increase employee cooperation.
Writing gratitude letters brings similar results. Try it—you’re probably tired of cleaning up quarantine cooking projects. Be specific about what you’re grateful for. I’ve shared a sample letter with classes, thanking the aunt and uncle who part-time parented me when I needed it. They bought me a killer olive-green suit for my Baylor internship interview.
Because the focus on thankfulness is healing in itself, you don’t need to deliver your letter to benefit. But doing so might matter. Wouldn’t a former coach be tickled? And wives, and husbands—how much would they love a heartfelt, vulnerable note of appreciation?
While the pandemic hasn’t brought me any great boons—I already knew how to bake—I look for small moments to appreciate each day, such as a burst of bougainvillea, a family member’s good check-up, or successfully French-knotting and chain-stitching through too many spare hours.
Join me on the hunt.
With some effort, these purposeful activities can build a positive outlook. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, says happiness “is a running stream, not a stagnant pool.” We can eagerly seek it.
Thirty-plus years as a psychologist have taught me that everyone struggles. If we’re fortunate, our struggles are manageable. We get to take sanity, sobriety and having food on the table for granted. We work on things like patience and kindness with our loved ones. When gratitude is not a natural state, we can resolve to cultivate it.
My career also taught me that while change grabs some people abruptly via trauma or a spiritual awakening, others change through no-drama sincere commitment. The destructive blow of a sledgehammer breaks a brick, but so does the steady drip, drip, drip of a faucet. Personal growth will happen if you steadily adjust and try and reconsider and persevere and hope until you find, in time, that you are closer to the person you want to be.
Law enforcement officers need positivity to fight the creeping cynicism that fosters misconduct at work and alienates family members at home. Please join me in looking around to notice what is promising and beautiful instead of or in addition to what sucks.
Some of you didn’t need that sermon, and others should heed the call. For all of you, here’s my latest gratitude letter.
Dear HPD Officers, Civilian Staff, and Spouses,
When I think about the risks you take to protect us, I stop cold. The recent deaths of Brian Sicknick, Howard Liebengood, Jr. and Jeffrey Smith testify to the horrors of your job. Thank you for your strength.
Truly, in my two stints with HPD, 1987-1998 and 2005-2017, the Department taught me the meaning of leadership, generosity and resilience. I’m thinking of so many of you, including the ones who spent too much on the kids in their beats. Y’all taught me to do therapy that was based on straight talk and clear thinking with no razzle dazzle, and I love that.
Thank you unreservedly for letting me glimpse your world and support your mission. It has been a great honor.
Stay well, ask Psych. Services for help when needed (free! confidential!), and as the Chief said, Please get vaccinated.