Gratitude in the Time of COVID

The local school system has new requirements for teachers and students every week. Your personal routines have been upended and remade more than once. The testing agencies are not giving you anywhere near as much clarity as you would like. On the state and national levels, officials give us a new set of directives with each new set of incoming data. Contrary to what we may be thinking and what we may be feeling, this is perfect time to give thanks.

Why Now?

As everyone — literally everyone — is aware, all of us are operating in an ever-changing environment with more than its share of stress and risk. From the inconvenient personal changes we have had to make to the difficult structural transitions all elements of our society have had to absorb, most of us have experienced increased stress and anxiety over the last several weeks. Consciously deciding to practice a little more thankfulness is a way to take some semblance of control back. Let’s look at how expressing gratitude can alter our current circumstances.

What Thankfulness Isn’t

Before we take a look at the ways gratitude can impact our lives, we need to be sure we are clear on what gratitude is. Being thankful is not an avoidance of the actual problems that confront us, but instead giving thanks for what we have, acknowledging the challenges and charging forward anyway. By taking the time to express thanks, we put ourselves in the right mindset for meeting these challenges. Being thankful is an acknowledgement of the negatives and the positives of the current situation.

Another thing true gratitude does not include is insincerity or mockery. I am not suggesting we make up things to be thankful for, but looking for the positives or potential positives in each development goes a long way. What is the opportunity, or better yet, the challenge, presented by a temporary setback?

Finally, an expression of thanks is not an opportunity to only voice the negatives. As unsatisfying as it may seem, sometimes we have to give thanks that a situation, outcome, or alternative didn’t turn out how we had hoped. Acknowledge the silver lining for yourself and give someone a real, tangible act of good. No need to sit in those sad emotions. Express your thanks and move on.

Understand Your Motivation

The topic of gratitude has been a subject of sustained scientific review. Studies have linked gratitude to adopting better health habits, increased feel-good emotions, and positive effects on relationships. Other studies have connected gratitude to decreased stress and generally improved health. Further, expression of gratitude has been connected with a greater ability to experience gratitude long-term. A key takeaway is that time spent identifying a reason to be grateful means less time devoted to fixating on the imperfect. Again, being thankful for the silver lining allows you to address a given issue and move forward.

Some Suggestions on Expressing Thankfulness

OK. Perhaps I’ve convinced you to give gratitude a try (or continue trying). Additionally, we’ve clarified what we’re trying to express and some additional benefits. How do we give this gratitude idea more of a test drive?

Be Specific … or Not

The personal effects of expressing gratitude do not actually require there to be a physical recipient of our emotion. When we genuinely express thankfulness, our minds and bodies experience the effects, even if no one directly hears our message. Of course, if you have an actual person who has helped you that you’d like to thank, there may be no better time to do so than the present.

It’s Personal

As stated above, no one needs to hear your thanks for you to experience the positive effects. This is not a call to make a public proclamation, but simply an invitation to try a new habit for your own benefit. Say “thank you” when you’re in your room, on a walk, or sitting outside. Try using a journal to track your efforts.

Choosing Gratitude

Despite the understandable temptation to focus on what we do not have or what we may have actually lost, it is important to recognize the ability we have to take the initiative in any situation. Deciding to look for moments to be grateful is an affirmative step to begin to exercise control even — especially — when it seems it has been lost. We will have continued opportunities to find potential positives in all things. Although it may be challenging sometimes, this is a habit well worth practicing.