The Healing Power of Gratitude

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” –Thoreau

Posted Apr 03, 2020

Big Stock Images
Source: Big Stock Images

Asking “what are you thankful for?” during a global pandemic might seem absurd. Every day the news gets grimmer. We hear sirens outside our windows. We read stories of hospitals stretched to capacity. Loved ones are sick. We can’t leave our homes. Finding things to be grateful for right now might seem impossible. But studies show the healing power of gratitude. Feeling and expressing thanks can improve our well-being. What’s more important during the COVID-19 pandemic than that?

Spend a few minutes every day writing a list of reasons why you are grateful. For example: I am grateful for my health and for my family’s health. I am grateful for the nurses and doctors working hard to save lives. I am grateful for the love I have in my life. I am grateful the sun is shining today. I also recommend reading, listening, or watching things you find uplifting. What brightens my day are the videos of neighbors in Spain and Italy making music from their balconies, and puppies exploring an aquarium.

If you’re feeling afraid right now, that’s OK. Anxiety can harm our emotional health, but sometimes it’s necessary, and a little bit of fear can be beneficial. Anxiety tells us that we need to be alert. And we do need to be alert right now. When we leave our homes, we need to remember to put six feet of space between other people and ourselves, not to touch our faces, and to wash our hands frequently. A little watchfulness right now is fine as long as it doesn’t overwhelm us.

We’ve known for a long time about the connection between mental and physical health. As we try to prevent ourselves from getting sick or speed up our recovery, it is helpful to boost our mental well-being. If you are feeling depressed or if your anxiety has gone beyond “alert” and become all-consuming, there are a few simple things you can do to help improve your well-being, and they all involve gratitude.

We don’t know what our lives will look like a month from now or even a week. When the world feels out of control, finding order at home becomes more important. Create a schedule for yourself. You might not be able to predict what the future will bring, but you can know what will happen today if you make a routine for yourself. Wake up at the same time every morning, go to bed at the same time every night, and fill your day with activities, including work, hobbies, solo time, and family time. Keeping your home tidy can also decrease your feelings of stress. The less chaos around you, the more at peace you will feel. Write a list of the things in your home for which you are grateful. For example: I am grateful for the food in my cupboards. I am grateful for my books. I am grateful for the tree outside my window. 

At the time I’m writing this, more than two-thirds of the U.S. have orders to stay at home. There are things to be grateful for in this situation, too. If your home includes a partner, children, or roommates, and you can’t find as much time or space to enjoy alone time as you’d like, people who are socially isolating solo might appear to have it easier. For those that live alone, social isolation can feel very, well, isolating. You imagine how much nicer it would be to live with family or friends right now. The grass is always greener, right? Whatever your living situation, write a list of the things for which you feel gratitude. For example: I am grateful for my pet. I am grateful I get to spend more time with my family. I am grateful for my own space. 

For those socially isolating solo, feelings of loneliness and disconnection can increase depression and anxiety, so carve out time in your day to connect with friends and family through FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. If you’re isolating with others, carve out at least one hour every day to relax alone, and remember your partner/kids/roommates need solo time, too. This might mean taking a long bubble bath in the bathroom with the door closed or going into the bedroom with a book and closing the door.

Doing something creative can also help alleviate depression and anxiety. Journal, write poetry, paint, draw, make a collage, play music, or try your hand at a new dish in the kitchen. Write a list of the first things you’re going to do when the stay-at-home orders are lifted. Where do you want to visit? Who do you want to see? At which restaurants do you want to eat? 

There is beauty in the world, even in our darkest hours, and many reasons to feel gratitude. I am grateful that we have the technology to connect with our loved ones from afar because we need one another now more than ever.  I am grateful to live in a country that has demonstrated its resiliency again and again. We survived a civil war, won two world wars, got through the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic, and healed after 9/11. I am grateful for the hardworking scientists around the world who are looking for coronavirus treatments and a vaccine.

The best way we can help one another right now is to isolate ourselves physically but stay united emotionally and spiritually. And the best way we can help ourselves is by using the healing power of gratitude.