I recently finished a course on the Science of Wellbeing that talked about what we think will make us happy but doesn’t and what kinds of things we can do to actually make us happier. One of the takeaways from the course was about how important our social connections were for our overall happiness. Something many of us might have taken for granted in pre-pandemic times.
I did one of the exercises in the course that asked students to connect with people we care about. As we continue to deal with the global pandemic and the winter months have set in, isolation and loneliness can be real threats to our mental health and overall wellbeing. Although I was staying connected to some family and a few friends, I realized I could do more especially if that would help boast my mood. I reached out to five friends that I hadn’t seen or spoken to (besides the random text or DM) in over a year and set up some video chats.
Finding Gratitude in Difficult Times
During those conversations when we shared how we were coping with being in lockdown and the many restrictions to our lives that Covid-19 has brought, I noticed a consistent theme. Everyone, in their own way, expressed immense gratitude for all they had. We all had our own unique challenges, from working from home with young children or teenagers, to being at home with entire families – parents, siblings and nieces and nephews, to being home alone, yet my friends found many things, even the little things we once took for granted, to be grateful for.
Some were grateful for big things like, having enough space in their homes to accommodate everyone, to work from home, or to still be employed because they knew people who had lost their jobs. Still, others were grateful for the ability to connect on the phone or virtually with friends and family, to be able stand in the driveway so their kids to see their grandparents at a safe distance, the ability to take daily walks, or for video games to keep the kids entertained and having access to online delivery services. We were all very grateful for our health and the health of our families and friends.
In his new book, Think Like a Monk, author and former monk, Jay Shetty says that gratitude is “the world’s most powerful drug”. The research supports the fact that the benefits of gratitude are abundant and touch aspects of our lives, the lives of others and the world around us. Shetty says, “imagine what the world would be like we all started our day giving thanks for the most basic and essential gifts of life all around us.” Gratitude is good for our mental and physical health and wellbeing and our relationships with others.
Cultivating Gratitude Daily
Shetty suggests that if we train in the daily practice of gratitude, making it a habit, it will transform our mindset so that we can focus on our abundance and not on what we are lacking. So, when setbacks happen, we should try to consciously practice gratitude for the opportunity that was presented. This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel bad about the situation. It means we train our minds to not dwell on the negative and sit in that place but instead appreciate the possibility that other proverbial doors may open in our lives. He suggests you look for those opportunities in the failures and when you find them, you take advantage of it. He calls this ‘grateful living’.
According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s most leading scientific expert on gratitude, in one of his books on the subject, cultivating gratitude involves a conscious daily discipline where you choose to focus on the things that are working for you in your everyday life, the extraordinary and the ordinary.
Now, I cannot say that I practice grateful living daily nor am I able to think like a monk, but gratitude has been the anchor that has kept me grounded, calm and humble in this time of such uncertainty and fear that we find ourselves living in for coming into a year now.
In addition to staying connected with friends, family and coworkers, I’ve made it a habit to take time out each night to reflect on a few good things in my day. This daily gratitude practice has helped me to reflect often on the ordinary, mundane things in my day that made me feel good like, waking up that morning, the feel of the sun on my face on a particularly sunny day or dancing to Missy Elliott’s Get Ur Freak On while doing the dishes. It allows me to pause for a few minutes before bed to genuinely reflect, show appreciation, maybe even smile or laugh, and to acknowledge how very fortunate I am.
Here are a few simple ways to begin to cultivate gratitude in your daily life, especially if you are super busy and finding time to do all the things is a challenge. As Emmons says, gratitude shouldn’t be a burden that weighs us down as yet another thing on our to-do list. Gratitude should uplift us.
5 Easy Ways to Practice Gratitude Daily
1. Start each morning being grateful – Before you pick up your phone (unless it’s to turn the alarm off) begin every day, the minute you wake up, by giving thanks. It can be as simple as being thankful for waking up to another day, the sunshine or that cup of morning coffee. Oprah says, “thank you” every morning before getting out of bed to express how grateful she is for being awake, being alive and being present another day.
2. Savour one meal each day – Pick one meal out of your day to take a few seconds to truly appreciate and give thanks for it, every day you sit down to have it (e.g., breakfast, lunch or dinner).
This doesn’t have to be limited to a meal. You can do this for any routine daily activity like taking a shower – pause, close your eyes and savour the experience – feel the water on your skin, the heat, the wetness, then give thanks for this experience that not everyone gets to have.
How do you feel afterward? Was your experience of the activity enhanced? Keep it up!
3. Count your blessings before bed – before you go to sleep deliberately focus on pleasant thoughts, the good things. This may help you fall asleep with happier thoughts which in turn, may help you get better sleep.
4. Say “Thank You” to someone – Say “Thank you” to a loved one has done something kind for you, including small acts like bringing you tea in bed. Emmons says make it a mindful thank you; be specific when you give thanks, comment on the effort the person has taken and costs. Keep the focus on that person.
You can also send a note (or email/text) of thanks letting a person know how much you appreciate them or something they have done for you. Again, be specific in what it is that you appreciate about them.
5. Write it down in a gratitude Journal – Although this gratitude activity is a bit more time consuming, the act of journaling can have positive health benefits [link back to previous blog post on Journaling]. Journaling is also a great way to cultivate a habit of daily gratitude.
Take 5-10 minutes to write down up to five things you are grateful for (small or big things) and acknowledge the source of the good thing you are thankful for.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope it inspires you to find moments in your day to feel uplifted by gratitude. I’ll leave you with these words about gratitude by author Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
This post first appeared on the Swell Made Co. Blog