by Kathy Haueisen
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, better health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster recovery rate from surgery.
But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be challenging to sustain. We often notice what is broken, undone, or lacking in our lives. For gratitude to meet its full healing potential, 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. People I know are gravely ill. Working parents are stressed by children who are attending school from home. So many stores are still closed or hanging “going out of business” signs. The cases of COVID-19 are increasing. 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 applies to our current COVID situation. “Fake it until you make it.” We can pretend to be grateful, even if the underlying emotion right now is 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?
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 gratefully.
- 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 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.
Kathryn Haueisen worked in public relations before launching a freelance writing career and becoming an ELCA Lutheran pastor. Her first retirement project was researching and writing a historical fiction, Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures, released by Green Writers Press in October 2020, and available here: Bookshop and Amazon in e-book and print. At HowWiseThen.com, Kathy blogs about good people doing great things for our global village.