I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Margaret DeLong about her work as The Gratitude Psychologist. Dr. DeLong is an author and psychologist with a dynamic and innovative practice, and I loved having the opportunity to get to know her!
1. Your website says you’re the Gratitude Psychologist. What does this mean to you, and how did you choose this as your brand?
My mission is to teach people the healing power of gratitude. Gratitude is accessible to all, accessible at all times, is free, feels good in the moment, and has long-term mental health benefits. In my 19 years as a psychologist, I have never come across anything as predictably healing as gratitude. While I am a positive psychologist who also talks/teaches about others things, such as joy and resilience, I am most passionate about gratitude. As a psychologist, it is also important to me that everything I teach be backed by research. There are so many psychological studies demonstrating the mental health benefits of practicing gratitude. In addition, neuroscience demonstrates that when we practice gratitude, we are truly forming new neural pathways to be more positive thinkers. This has a tremendous positive impact on mental health. I chose gratitude as my brand because gratitude is what helped me get through the most difficult time in my life. When my fiance was battling cancer, the doctors told us that there was nothing left that they could do for him, and that he was going to die. I was 26 years old, and he was 27. During the last 42 days of his life at the hospital, each day was fraught with gut-wrenching unpredictability. I didn’t know if he’d be able to open his eyes and look at me that day. I didn’t know if he’d be able to speak that day. I didn’t know if he was going to die that day. It was so unpredictable, uncertain, and scary. I sat there by his side for 42 days and nights. The one thing that was predictable was that I could get a cup of hazelnut coffee from the hospital cafeteria. I was so grateful for that cup of coffee. It brought me comfort as I sat by his side and journaled after all of the visitors left. The nutty aroma permeated his hospital room and made it seem less sterile. It reminded me of being at home. It brought me so much comfort. What I did not realize at the time is that I was practicing gratitude. Simple gratitude for that cup of hazelnut coffee is what got me through the darkest days of my life. It is my goal to help people understand that gratitude is truly most powerful on our worst days.
2. Your memoir is absolutely beautiful! How did you get through a graduate program while caring for a fiance with cancer?
Actually, I was not caring for him while I was in school. I applied to 6 doctoral programs, and all 6 granted me an interview. However, I only had one interview before I learned that he had cancer. He encouraged me to attend the other 5 interviews, even though I was an absolute wreck and could not even think straight. As you can imagine, the only place I got in was the school where I had the interview before I learned that he had cancer. I am proud to say that I was the top graduate of that doctoral program, with a 3.96 GPA. I was supposed to start my program just as his cancer took a turn for the worst. I contacted the program director, and she informed me that they would hold my spot, and I was welcome to begin whenever I was ready. So I began the following fall, 11 months after he passed away.
3. Tell me more about your book, Feeling Good. What was the inspiration behind it?
My newest book is all about ways of boosting mood, even on a difficult day. Each chapter starts with an inspirational quote, describes the idea, provides a story of how I or a friend or client has used the idea, research demonstrating the effectiveness, and action steps to put the idea into immediate action. The inspiration for writing this book was that all my life, people have asked me what I do to be “so happy.” I would give some examples, and the response I often got back was, “That’s easy for you! You’re a happy person!” But the reason I’m a happy person is that I actually DO these things. Every day. Not all 35 in a day of course, but at least 5 of them, every single day. That is what maintains my positive mood, and that is what helps ward off depression and anxiety. Similar to gratitude, these methods are accessible to all, and are free or low cost. And they are so simple that we are more likely to do them on a crummy day, when we need them the most.
4. What would you want your readers’ main takeaway be from your book?
I would like the readers to understand that they are powerful human beings, and that they have the power to create their own happiness. I would like the reader to understand that it is not complicated, and that it involves is practice. Daily practice. And all practice means is focused attention and repetition. Simply doing any of these discussed in the book is scientifically proven to boost mood.
5. Tell me about Peggy’s Midnight Creations. Do you make the jewelry yourself? What led to you incorporating jewelry into your work as a psychologist?
When my children were little (ages 5, 4, and 2), I took an adult class in jewelry making, just for fun! It was one way to get me out of the house one night a week for 8 weeks. I loved it SO much. I quickly became addicted to the therapeutic benefits of beading. I made more jewelry than I could ever wear, so I began participating in small vendor events, and all of my items sold out. At that time, my private practice focused 100% on conducting forensic psychological evaluations in child abuse cases. I would write my reports from 8PM-midnight after putting my 3 little ones to bed. I found that after writing about these horrific stories of child abuse, I could not go to bed without unwinding. For me, the best way to unwind was to bead and create. So every night after finishing my writing about child abuse, I would spend some time beading at midnight. That is where the name “Peggy’s Midnight Creations” came from. After 7 years of making jewelry and selling at local craft shows, I decided to make it a real business and focus on mental health bracelets, and bracelets for coping with loss and difficulty. After my fiance and father died in 1994, I received an angel bracelet as a gift. Wearing this bracelet when I returned to work brought me so much comfort. I receive so much joy specifically making bracelets that focus on mental health, or coping with loss and difficulty. It is therapeutic for me to make. I receive great joy providing the customer with a meaningful gift. I am thrilled when customers send me messages with their recipients wearing the bracelets, and telling me that the gift was so special that it moved both of them to tears.
6. Your website says you offer parenting consultation services. Can you tell me more about this service? Is it different from traditional therapy?
Parent consultation is different from traditional therapy. It is time-limited, and has the purpose of providing specific education regarding a particular challenge that the parent is facing. It typically involves a combination of education regarding child development and parenting skills training.
7. Tell me more about the Walk and Talk therapy you do. How did you bring this component into your practice? How does incorporating movement like this affect the process?
I am blessed to live in an area with an abundance of hiking and walking trails. I started a walking group for women in 2014 after reading an article about the mental health benefits of walking in nature with others. My email list for the walking group grew to 300 people, and we had anywhere from 5-10 people show up for the walks. We walked once a week for 6 years, with over 300 walks. Unfortunately, that came to a halt with COVID. This was so enjoyable for group members, that I began offering it as an option for my 1-1 therapy clients a few years ago. For some people, this helps progress. Exercising releases neurotransmitters in the brain that boost mood. Exercising while talking helps some people open up. Some clients find it easier to be facing forward together and walking, rather than sitting and looking at a therapist face to face. Walking can also spur creativity, problem-solving, and disclosure. Being nature also helps people feel alive, which can enhance the therapeutic process and progress.
8. What projects do you have coming up that you’d like to talk about?
My main focus right now, in addition to supporting my 1:1 clients through the pandemic, is my monthly membership program. Every order of my book comes with 3 months of free membership in the companion online program. I started this program in January 2020. Each month has a topic related to mental health. Each month includes a 30 minute educational video, downloadable “growsheets” (not worksheets), weekly email “delights” (not challenges), a live Zoom call, optional private Facebook group, and bonus guest speakers. I am very happy and proud to be offering this mental health service during the pandemic that is affordable and accessible. My next writing projects include: 1) a therapy journal to maximize the benefits of psychotherapy, 2) a workbook to go along with my book and online program, and 3) a back to basics parenting book based on the way I was parented by two wonderful parents.