Everyone is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and “everyone” is inclusive of the global community. This isn’t to say all of the impacts are uniform or evenly distributed – while we may all be experiencing the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.
My 15-year-old daughter made an interesting remark after supper the other day, which caused me to pause and reflect. She suggested we start a “Family Gratitude Journal.” We were talking about how, as a family, we have not faced some of the challenges that others have endured during the pandemic, and have been able to consider instead how we can help others. But in a typical parent-teen exchange with my husband, my daughter said, “Dad, you are always telling me that I should be more grateful. But I never hear you say what you are grateful for.” [cut to Mom, stage left, silently nodding her head while acknowledging in a thought bubble that she too could express more gratitude outwardly.]
What are the benefits of practicing gratitude during this pandemic? Just to be clear, I am not advocating for expressing gratitude instead of any feelings of pain, sadness, anxiety, confusion, or any other legitimate experience you may be currently having. I am putting a pitch in to practice gratitude in addition to these things.
Expressing gratitude deepens your ability to feel genuine appreciation in many more contexts.
To help motivate you in this, here are four real benefits of practicing gratitude:
- Thinking about what you are grateful for settles your physiological stress response. I know this because I tried it after someone told me it helps them sleep at night. During an especially busy and stressful time in my life this past fall, I tried it and it worked! I could literally feel my heart rate settling and my breathing become deeper.
- Expressing gratitude deepens your ability to feel genuine appreciation in many more contexts. The other side effect of purposefully noticing and naming what I was grateful for meant that more spontaneous moments of gratitude started popping up. I could see more learning opportunities and possibilities in situations and people, and it felt good.
- Reaching out to others became an easier, more natural thing to do. Often when you start to notice how important someone is or recognize a simple act of kindness, it seems like a good idea to share that. One of my dearest and oldest friends sent a group text to a couple of us a few days ago with these heartfelt words: “I just wanted you gals to know that I appreciate you and respect you. I have to continue to be mindful of who I have, thank you for being my sisters. I AM BLESSED.” Which leads into my final benefit . . .
- Telling people you appreciate them builds community and connection. I know this message is being repeated in many different ways right now, but it is a message worth repeating. Especially during this period of being apart physically from many family, friends, coworkers, schoolmates, even acquaintances, it is important to keep the bridges we do have to others intact.
My CTRI colleague, Tricia Klassen, wrote a wonderful blog a couple of weeks back about supporting your family during COVID-19. She wrote that, during this time, connection is more important than perfection (always good advice no matter what the context). She also posed an important question at the end of her blog: “When you later look back at this family time during COVID-19, what do you hope to recall?”
Here’s my answer: I hope to recall that a renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude became a regular part of our daily lives. Getting to know my two teenaged children in a much different way is something I am grateful for. Seeing the attachment relationship within our family broaden and deepen and include proximity and the precious gift of time (even with occasional conflicts and maybe even a blowout or two along the way) is something I hope to recall. That even though we think of teenagers’ need for independence and distance, having them close at hand and having time together is a healthy part of adolescent development as well. And having your 15-year-old bring your attention to the importance of gratitude is one of the greatest gifts of all to receive during this time.
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