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The Power of Gratitude

As I write this, our country and our world are in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.  There is a pervasive sense of fear of the present and anxiety about what the future might hold.  Amidst this chaos and uncertainty, I’ve been reminded to pause and slow down, to take stock of what matters, and to practice gratitude.

Gratitude is a powerful practice (pandemic or not) that can help shift our perspective.  It is not only an action (i.e. saying “thank you”) but also an emotion. It moves us from a focus on lack or desire for something not yet attained, to one that is grounded in the goodness already present in our lives.  Expressing gratitude in a more formal way may feel unnatural at first and challenging at times, particularly during difficult circumstances. We can easily get stuck and stay focused on what is missing or how we want things to feel or look different.  Importantly, this is why it is a practice – something that we continue to cultivate and that grows easier and stronger with time.

Research indicates that focusing our attention on what we are grateful for reaps benefits.  By nature, gratitude is a mindful exercise that slows us down and grounds us in the present moment.  It is also an inherently connective practice: to self, others and something larger than us (whatever that might mean for an individual).  Among other benefits, it is correlated with greater happiness, positive emotions, stronger relationships, improved health, better sleep, and increased self-esteem.  

If you are interested in initiating or deepening a gratitude practice in your life, consider the following ideas.  Write a thank you note to someone you would like to acknowledge your appreciation for (in this era of electronic communication, consider a handwritten one!).  Set aside time for a formal practice: sit in a quiet place and identify experiences in your day or more broadly in your life that you are thankful for – give it your attention and let it sink in.  Keep a gratitude journal that you write in each day. If you have a spiritual practice, make gratitude part of your prayer or meditation ritual. You may notice this grateful state remaining with you throughout the day and permeating other areas of your life.

One thing to note: acknowledging what we are grateful for can bring up other feelings along with it.  For instance, being grateful for our significant other might simultaneously remind us of our vulnerability and the risk inherent in loving someone.  If you notice this happening, see if you can kindly and compassionately allow space for the entirety of your experience. We are complicated beings and our feelings do not neatly fit into boxes.  Remember that we all share in this vulnerability and experience a range of emotions – it is part of being human.

Personally speaking in this time of social distancing, I am grateful for those I love, whether they are near or far from me at this moment.  I appreciate the things that connect us and everyday routines and events that I easily take for granted – commuting to work, having easy access to food, dining out with friends, embracing others and so much more.  In an unprecedented scenario with so much out of our control, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on what you are grateful for in your own life.

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