Dr. Phil Baquie spends lots of time encouraging his patients to practice gratitude.
The 45-year-old Baquie is the owner and founder of the Wellness Center of Oxford and the Wellness and Counseling Center of Tupelo. He said expressing gratitude has a positive effect on overall wellbeing, even for those experiencing severe emotional difficulty.
“There was a recent study,” he said. “It was at an inpatient facility for suicidal patients. When they were asked to write a letter of gratitude, almost 90 percent of all patients who did so experienced a measurable lift in hope and optimism.”
A native of Australia, Baquie moved to the United States in 1999. He said growing up Down Under gave him first-hand experience in being grateful for simple things.
“We grew up poor,” he said. “And it gets really hot in Australia. I remember, we had one of those oscillating fans, and we couldn’t wait for that cool air to wash over us for a few seconds. That’s the thing about gratitude; it doesn’t cost anything and anyone can practice it, but we miss it so often.”
While we often fail to act on it, Baquie said humans have a natural hunger to express gratitude, and something as simple as a sunset proves it.
“In northern Australia we have beautiful sunsets,” he said. “Guys make a living renting beach chairs for tourists to sit and watch the sun go down. And at just the moment when the sun disappears, every single time, people clap. Whether that’s gratitude to God, or to the natural world, or to something else, I don’t know. But we all want to show gratitude to something bigger than ourselves.”
After moving to the United States, Baquie served eight years in a special operations tactical unit in the Army Reserves before moving to Nashville to pursue a career in contemporary Christian music.
For the next 10 years, Baquie wrote and produced four albums on his own. In addition, he played lead guitar with the band Sonic Flood for two years before leaving the music industry to pursue a new career in counseling.
Baquie earned a doctoral degree in psychology and moved to Oxford in 2010. He said his work as a therapist was influenced by Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
“Frankl’s book, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning,’ made a huge impact,” he said. “I did my doctoral work in existential analysis, which Frankl pioneered.”
Baquie said Frankl’s writings about his experience in a Nazi concentration camp helped him see how it is possible to practice gratitude, even in times of great suffering and loss.
“Think of what he endured in Auschwitz,” he said. “His pregnant wife, his mother and father, his brother, so many friends – all murdered. Everything was stripped from him by the Nazis. But in the middle of it all he came to understand that through suffering we can find purpose and meaning that enables us to rise above our circumstances.”
While most Americans cherish the idea of the “pursuit of happiness” as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Baquie said Frankl challenged the notion in his writings.
“Frankl said, ‘You Americans love your Declaration of Independence, but its opening paragraph is incorrect,’” Baquie said. “Frankl taught that if you pursue happiness you won’t ever find it. That’s because the problem we have is not lack of happiness; it’s lack of meaning.”
Baquie said for gratitude to be sustainable, it must be in spite of, rather than reliant upon, our circumstances.
“We shy away from suffering like a child is taught to avoid a hot stove,” he said. “But in reality, suffering is one of the greatest ways in life to experience meaning. It enables me to rise above my circumstances. Even when I can’t control them, I can control how I respond to them.”
Baquie said people of faith either learn to gratefully embrace suffering as a gateway to deeper meaning and purpose, or they develop pathological relationship to it.
“Some religious people believe if they’re suffering there must be something wrong or they’re being punished,” he said. “To deny darkness, suffering and death is to split your reality, which causes all kinds of pathology.”
Especially during the stressful holiday season, Baquie said it is important to practice gratitude.
“Our minds are our biggest enemies,” he said. “We automatically go to the negative. But what if we were to reframe our experiences? What if we used our challenges not as an excuse to play the victim, but to turn it around for social good and for change? Think of how different the outcomes would be.”