16 Mar How can gratitude help us get through a crisis?
Coronavirus has caused a bit of anxiety for me given the effect on my personal financial situation. I am facing many “what ifs” with respect to how I will generate income during this panic, for lack of a better word. I lived in New York City during and after 9/11 and then through economic crisis of the late 2000s. I foresee similarities between those situations and the current one. Just after 9/11, I was single and had no one to support but me. Ten-plus years ago I was newly married with my first child on the way. I didn’t feel the weight of those times as much as I am feeling them now. I just finished a master’s degree in sport psychology. My income is risk-based (e.g., commissions, non-guaranteed income). My monthly expenses are higher. And, my kids are 11 and 9 years old require much greater maintenance, particularly from a financial perspective. Put those things together with a global pandemic that has generated fear and wild uncertainty and it is a recipe for me to experience debilitating anxiety. However, in 2020, I have a much more robust set of tools to deal with this challenging situation thanI did in 2001 or 2008.
Last night, I was laying in bed with my 9-year old daughter Lucy as she was getting ready to sleep. We were about six inches apart so social distancing is out the window in our house. I caught my mind wandering about what could go wrong and how this might affect my kids. However, a wave of gratitude came over me in that moment. I was just happy to be laying there with her knowing that everything was just fine. We were enjoying each other’s company. It was just another joyful bedtime collaboration. I can’t control what happens tomorrow, in two weeks, or in a year. However, I can appreciate what it is that I have right now. I have a healthy family, which unfortunately could change tomorrow. I have a beautiful home, which we could be gone soon if anyone is brave enough to buy it in these uncertain times. Nevertheless, I am grateful for all of the wonderful things in my possession, tangible and intangible. Today, I am healthy, mindful, and prepared to make difficult decisions. Tomorrow, something will change and I will need to make a choice to act one way or the other.
Gratitude has been defined as “a positive recognition of benefits received” (Nelson, 2009, p. 38). Simply put another way, gratitude is focusing on the good things rather than the bad things in our lives. I hate using the words good and bad as they are wildly subjective, but the reality is that most people have the same general conception of good and bad. For instance, the stock market rising is good and the stock market falling is bad. Again, this is a generalization, but a pretty relatable one, I think. Practicing gratitude has been found through scientific research to increase well-being and protect against “negative states and in promoting growth through trauma” (Nelson, 2009, p. 43). More specifically, gratitude reduces negative mood states (e.g., depression), improves relationships, and improves physical and mental functioning (Nelson, 2009).
So what can you do to practice gratitude?
- Keep a gratitude journal: Make a list of one, two, three things each day for which you are grateful. Start small. Grateful for waking up today? Check. Grateful you are healthy today? Check. Grateful for the sunshine today? Check.
- Meditate: Focus on something that you are grateful for today and meditate on it for a few minutes. Close your eyes and repeat a phrase or visualize the object of your gratitude.
- Tell someone: Call or text a friend or family member today and thank them for being part of your life.
Practicing gratitude will NOT make the troubles of the world disappear. In fact, your troubles will almost certainly still be there when you are done practicing gratitude. However, practicing gratitude consistently over time may allow you to shift your focus to the gifts in your life and feel better and act a bit more confidently through a challenging time.
Nelson, C. (2009). Appreciating gratitude: Can gratitude be used as a psychological intervention to improve individual well-being? Counselling Psychology Review, 24(3-4), 38-50.