Cultivating Gratitude

Yes, it’s hard, and still there’s hope

Posted Nov 29, 2020

Free-Photos/Pixabay
Gratitude can be cultivated.
Source: Free-Photos/Pixabay

November and December are normally the months when we come together to celebrate holidays with friends and family. We travel. We eat. We share gifts.

Covid-19 has put a damper on holiday gatherings. We are being asked not to travel or congregate in groups. Millions are out of work. Food insecurity is at the highest level in recent memory. Stress and mental health problems are common.

These conditions make this an important time to cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude is the experience of appreciation. It is an acknowledgement of what has been done for or given to us. In stressful periods, gratitude can be an important feeling to nurture. It can bring light to dark times.

Promoting gratitude can be an essential way to gain balance and perspective, and to find the fortitude and courage to face challenges. How do we develop gratitude? Here are tips for finding and using gratitude to forge on with a more positive perspective.

Gratitude is a choice. One way to build gratitude is to give to others. The ability to give shows us what we have to be grateful for.

No matter what you might be facing, is it possible for you to serve others? Do you have an opportunity to volunteer at a food bank, loading food into the cars of those in need? Can you make deliveries for groups like Meals on Wheels, leaving supplies on the doorsteps of the elderly? Is a service group you belong to providing holiday gifts for children? Can you wash and distribute coats for those who are cold? Do you have old towels to give to an animal shelter? Do you know how to knit; can you give knitted scarves to the homeless?

By giving, we see our resources. In sharing of ourselves, we give others hope.

Start with the little things. Instead of rushing through the day, take time to appreciate the small events that make up our experience. Was the person who gave you coffee at the drive-through particularly pleasant? Did the person sanitizing grocery carts smile back when you smiled at them? Did the mailperson wave? Did you get a feeling of satisfaction from running an errand for an elderly or ill neighbor? These moments litter our days. If we take the time to notice them, we have the opportunity to see the good in difficult times.

Write it down. At the beginning of the day, if we write a gratitude list, we can focus on the good in the world. “I am grateful that my children are healthy,” or “I am grateful to have a day off from work,” are testaments to what we have and hold dear. These written lists can be touchstones when we lose site of what's good in our lives.

Share your gratitude. Did someone pick you up when your car broke down? Were you given a beautiful gift? Did a friend listen to you when you needed support? Do you love someone? Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them. Call. Text. Send a card. Sharing your appreciation will reinforce your feelings of gratitude and help the people in your life know that they matter.

“Accept the things [you] cannot change.” There are some things going on that are difficult. More than a quarter of a million Americans have died from Covid-19. Many businesses are in trouble or have closed their doors for good. Mental health problems abound from the stress of the pandemic. When we don’t have the power to change a situation, one healthy response is to “let it go.” Worrying about circumstances beyond our control only weakens our mental health. Take action where you can. Leave the rest.

Dream about the future, then plan. The pandemic will end. We will rebuild our businesses or build new ones. We’ll return to making art, religious activities, picnics and family reunions. What is it that you’re missing out on? Dream about what you want to do after stay-at-home orders loosen. Then make plans for how to get there. Will you organize a July 4th gathering, start a new home-based business, or take a trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go? Start taking steps toward that goal. That way, you’ll be in a position to implement your plans when opportunity arises.

Breathe. Take a deep breath into your belly. Expand it into your chest. Let it out for two beats through your mouth. Repeat. Breathing deeply oxygenates the body and can bring a sense of calm. Being able to breathe is an important action right now. Enjoy it. Ground yourself. Feel your body. Listen to what’s going on around you. This is your life. Find gratitude in the fact that you are here now. Opportunity awaits.