I get a laugh out of the memes circulating on social media about just how crazy 2020 has been. Did you the see the one with 2020 saying “Wait, there’s more!” with a picture of the infomercial guy? Other times I feel down as I think of the deaths of over 180,000 of my fellow citizens, the job loss, depression and pain of lockdowns. Then it seems like just as we get some good news, a Category 4 hurricane shows up. I once heard Andy Andrews say that life is one big crisis, you are “in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or headed for a crisis.” That certainly sums up 2020 for most of the world.
Mental health concerns have gotten a few headlines as we have seen increases in drug overdoses, suicides, abuse and other issues. While major depression, anxiety and serious mental health issues most certainly benefit from professional assistance, for most of us, there is one thing we can do to help improve our everyday – express gratitude. Sadness, anxiety, disappointment and feeling overwhelmed can be overcome with a focus on gratitude according to scientists. 1
According to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” 2 So what is the mystery feeling that produces happiness? Gratitude comes from the Latin word gratia which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. A good definition is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.”3 Having a grateful mind helps to diminish negative feelings, allowing you to connect with others with more ease and more appropriately deal with the ever looming crisis.
In one study, participants who wrote a few sentences each week, for 10 weeks, focused on gratitude were “more optimistic and felt better about their lives…exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians” as opposed to those who focused on sources of aggravation. (Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami)
Not focusing on the bad things allows us to acknowledge what is good in our lives. As a result, most will realize that the source of that goodness often lies outside of themselves. Gratitude helps you connect with something larger than yourself, whether that is other people, nature or a higher power.
Melody Beattie, an American self-help author said “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Areas to focus your gratitude on include:
The Past: Find a way to thank someone who had a positive impact on you but was never properly thanked. Look at past experiences that seemed negative at the time, but may have positively placed you on a path to today’s success.
The Present: Don’t take good fortune for granted, even the littlest things. It is true that there is always someone worse off than we are. Using a lens of gratitude can help you improve your current state by building on those little things.
The Future: Gratitude will help you stay optimistic and hopeful. Expressing gratitude for past experiences can improve your optimism for tomorrow, no matter the crisis that may come.
Mental ability is much like physical ability in that you must exercise your mind in order to make it stronger. If you wish to be more positive and optimistic, here are some exercises to help produce a more grateful mind:
Write/Say Thank-you: Writing is always special, but making this grateful phrase more used will help you and those around you. Make sure you say it with purpose, briefly reflecting on why you are saying it. Write notes once a week for the best effect. Even if you don’t send them to the person, studies show that you will still experience better mental health. 4
Keep a journal: Writing daily your blessings and gifts is a great way to keep gratitude in the forefront. List three to five things every night before bed that you appreciate. You’ll be surprised how you feel mentally in the morning.
Count your blessings: It is best to do this at a regularly scheduled time with a friend. Share with each other three to five things that have happened over the past week or month.
Prayer/Meditation: A time to quite the mind on focus internally can help grow gratefulness. Expressing thanks for small things like the sun on your face can help reduce negative emotions.
Lastly, in time of crisis or pain, acts of generosity will lead to feelings of joy and gratefulness. Written from Tegel prison after being arrested by the Gestapo and facing certain death, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” In his writings, Mr. Bonhoeffer expressed gratitude and spent his last days helping others in the prison remain hopeful and centered. Even as he walked to the gallows, it is documented that his last words were of encouragement to another prisoner.
Cicero wrote in De Officiis (On Obligations), considered one of his most important works, that we “are born for the sake of men, that they may be able mutually to help one another; in this direction we ought…to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving, and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together.” As you embark upon your day, find things to be grateful for, give generously of your time, talent and treasures to those around you and take heart, as “this too shall pass.” At Mainscape, we promise to continue contributing “our skill, our industry, and our talents” to bring our team, our clients and our community more closely together.