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Gratitude in a time of pandemic

Gratitude is good, and countless studies have shown that gratitude-focused people have a better sense of well being, especially in crisis times. The more you can create positivity, the better able your ability to cope. Sometimes it’s not easy.

T his is a particularly challenging time for Heidi to be grateful, but she has tried to find solace in the good. “I came to Toronto to celebrate my father’s birthday but ended up watching the heart monitor plunge to zero in the ICU as he took his last breath instead. Something I was ill-prepared for.”

“While there is no silver lining, I am grateful that I was with him for the last weeks, and am thankful that Dr Dos Santos at St Michael’s hospital rushed through the results of his Covid-19 test, which was negative. She found precious PPE that allowed me to go into his isolation room and hold his hand and talk to him in his final hours. He looked peaceful, heavily sedated as he was.”

“ My father always had a great steer on life. He was a realist, an optimist, and while he was still lucid, said of the pandemic that this too shall pass. My father, who was wonderfully wise and centred as a person, had one wish for my brother and me, and that was that we should be happy. It was not some idle throwaway. Finding that balance was in some ways what his life’s work as a psychiatrist was all about. He encouraged me to find positivity and joy.” 

Those of us who can be happy with what we have rather than trying to get what we need, fare better.  Concerning health, grateful people report more life satisfaction and improved sleep to boot. Possibly, those who focus on life’s blessing find less to worry about.

In these pandemic times, it’s a battle to find that balance or to fill your soul with gratitude. We are learning to take pleasure in what matters, like finding joy in simplicity for something that we once took for granted. No one expected that having a drink outside with friends, even if it is at a social distance, would be something to be thankful for.  

While we don’t know what a post-pandemic world will look like, and so much of it seems frightening, people who show gratitude are more likely to experience happiness. We can find contentment in the fact that the air is fresher or that fact that we commute less or that community spirit has rebounded and maybe an unexpected, lasting result of the pandemic.

During the lockdown, Vanessa has appreciated her house more than ever. “While I see my clients online instead of in my office, I look out of the window and see the trees on my beautiful street.” She is also grateful there is enough space in the house to co-exist comfortably with her family at this time of isolation.   

The downside of gratefulness is that it has become trendy. Some hijack a legitimate aim to show off and smugly parade gratitude on social media like a new Rolls Royce. They turn what is a genuine and vital search for contentment into a competition that suggests that they are lucky and chosen.

Gratitude can be misplaced if you focus on the positive when the reality is negative. Someone may stay in an unhappy or even abusive relationship as a result of misplaced gratitude where low self-esteem leads them to feel lucky to have a partner. Conversely, many relationships end when couples no longer feel grateful for their involvement and may lack the motivation to maintain it. 

And, we’re not saints or zen spirits. Sometimes, it’s just plain difficult to be grateful, and you want to scream about what you don’t have and what you want and that you have lost in these last few months. You can rage and say things like “I can’t take it”, which may work in the moment, but in the end, it’s not helpful. A dash of gratitude works better. On the other hand, suppressing negative thoughts and feelings isn’t a good plan either as they tend to find alternative outlets.

Even if you are not naturally predisposed to happiness, it is something you can cultivate. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, began his research in the ’70s. He discovered that optimists looked at situations as temporary, not permanent,  and therefore controllable. 

In the not so distant pre-pandemic past, we were always trying to make things perfect or upgrade them into something better. If a shop or restaurant was successful, it couldn’t just be; it had to expand or undergo an unnecessary and often unsuccessful revamp. Gratitude teaches us that we need to enjoy what we have.