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Choosing gratitude in difficult times

When things go as spectacularly wrong as they have been...it can feel like a chore to be thankful for what’s going right.

We’re all weathering the same storm, albeit in different boats. Stressful situations (holidays, pandemics) make it hard to focus on the good. How can we be expected to see and appreciate the positive with Covid-19 affecting pretty much every aspect of how we live our lives?

It’s not easy, or automatic by any means, but we do have the power to decide where to put our mental energy. Gratitude is a choice.

And it’s a choice people make in all manner of circumstances. Stories of individuals who managed to not just survive, but thrive despite the odds are actually quite common.

One such case is renowned physicist Albert Einstein, who lived through World Wars I and II.  After being forced to flee his home in Berlin, never to return, Einstein settled first in Belgium, before seeking refuge in the English countryside, and finally building a new life for himself in the United States.

But despite the adversity and hardships he experienced over the course of his lifetime, Einstein was resilient, practical and resolutely positive: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle".

On the benefits of gratitude

So what exactly does this quote from the father of modern physics have to do with positive thinking and how it can help you? A lot. Recent scientific and anecdotal research suggests the following important points to consider:

1) Grateful people are happier.

People who practice gratitude are more satisfied with their lives and less likely to suffer from poor mental wellbeing and related mental health issues (Berkeley, 2018).

So even if it feels like a stretch, given the challenging times at hand, it may be worth homing in on what’s going well, at work, and at home. Maybe your morning meeting was especially productive or fun, or you found a new show to stream. Notice something good, and write it down, or tell someone about it. Small wins are worth celebrating, too.

A person with long hair sleeping in a bed with gray flannel sheets--practising gratitude may be good for sleep.

Gregory Pappas via Unsplash.com

2) Gratitude is good for your health.

Giving thanks may also help you physically feel better—there’s a strong connection between gratitude and wellbeing. In fact, gratitude journaling has been found to improve sleep quality and duration.

Finally, there’s also evidence that gratitude behaviors (such as saying thank you, verbally or in written form) can lower the risk of heart disease and symptoms of depression.

3) Showing gratitude strengthens relationships.

Saying thank you is an easy way to show friends and loved ones how much we value them and reinforce the bonds that link us together. Studies indicate couples who express gratitude and appreciation for their partners are more adaptable to change and more positive in general.

Expressing gratitude and appreciation has also been linked to higher levels of oxytocin, a neuropeptide thought to positively affect pro-social behaviors such as trust, generosity and affection (all very welcome in any relationship).

4) Gratitude requires practice.

Writing thank you letters or notes on a regular basis, or keeping a gratitude journal (on paper, or in Foundations) gets you in the habit of noticing all of the things, people and experiences you have to be grateful for.

Besides, making a concentrated effort to appreciate the good things could lead you to even more reasons to give thanks: Practicing gratitude is linked to increased happiness and improved mood. Giving thanks also has a very desirable ripple effect—showing your appreciation spreads positive emotions to the people that surround you, colleagues, friends, family and everyone you interact with.

And sure, feeling gratitude in the midst of so much adversity is no small challenge. We get it. But moving your focus to what you’re thankful for can also be a source of support and resilience during these difficult times. Whether you practice mentally, or in your Foundations gratitude journal, acknowledging the kind people and small pleasures that continue to bring light to your existence is a worthwhile endeavor—especially on dark days when your wifi is acting up and you’re late to a video conference with your manager.

Are you using Foundations to build a gratitude practice? What are some things you’re grateful for today? Let us know at foundations@koahealth.com​.