I hope it is true that gratitude improves health. This week I’m struggling to generate gratitude. Another week, another setback in the book launching business. The place my publisher uses to print books had to close temporarily to deep clean the shop because someone tested positive for COVID-19. This is setting them back several weeks on their projects. It’s like waiting on a tarmac for permission to take off and having to accept there is nothing to do but wait.
The idea that practicing gratitude increases overall happiness has been a mainstream concept for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.
But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. For gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.
Gratitude in a COVID-19
Lately I’ve been a bit conflicted about the “gratitude attitude is good for your health” philosophy. I know that it is. I’ve observed my own sense of peace and calm increase as I’ve ramped up intentional efforts to document things for which I’m grateful. On the other hand, it almost seems inappropriate to be grateful when I am surrounded by grief and tragedy at every turn. People I know are gravely ill. Parents I know are stressed by children going to school via computers from home while the parents are trying to do their own work and supervise children. So many stores are still closed or hanging “going out of business” signs. It seems insensitive or callous to be grateful when there are so many challenges for so many people.
That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing. There’s a phrase in the 12-Step world that I believe applies to our current COVID world. “Fake it until you make it.” We can pretend to be grateful, even if the underlying emotion right now is perhaps fear, or anger, or anxiety, or depression.
Gratitude is not optimism
Gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.
If we look, we’ll find many things for which to be grateful: colorful autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, chocolate, fresh eggs, warm jackets, tomatoes, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies. What’s on your list?
Some Ways to Practice Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
- Put reminders of good people, places, and times where you see them often to remember there are things worthy of giving thanks.
- Start and end the day counting off reasons to be grateful that day.
- Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
- When you feel like complaining, counter the complaint with a thanks for something instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.
- Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.
About Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
Though several deadlines have come and gone without meeting the goals connected to them, the book is ready to print. The pre-orders are coming in. The calendar is filling with speaking invitations. I picked up one a few weeks ago by visiting my dentist. I picked up a few potential ones this week by visiting my doctor for my semi-annual check-up. Plans are coming together to host a virtual book launch.
This COVID-19 time will pass, eventually. As we wait, counting our blessings may be just the medicine we need to carry us through. I’m grateful to YOU for reading this far. Thank you.
Share the gratitude concept with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen. You’ll find a variety of ‘thank you’ resources waiting for you there.
I’m pleased to announce that pre-orders of Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale or Two Cultures are currently available at these places:
Bookshop.org (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Blue Willow on Memorial at Dairy Ashford https://www.bluewillowbookshop.com
Barnes & Noble in River Oaks at W. Gray