by Cheryl Brenn, HOBY Chief International Programs Officer
There is no doubt we are in the midst of a global health crisis. We are navigating, continually changing environments and situations, some of which we couldn’t even imagine just a week or two ago. Ask any high school or college student if they thought they would be wrapping up their school year at home instead of with their classmates, and I’m fairly confident the answer is a resounding no. People are trying to figure out child-care, transitioning or even maintaining their jobs, and how to inform and practice social distance with their family.
Essentially, this is all rapid-fire change, and each and every one of us is trying to plot a course through this new frontier day-to-day. Change can be difficult on a good day, but this level of change is a whole different story. The most common human response to change is panic and confusion. So, you are not alone in your feelings of disappointment, anger or even fear. But amidst all of that, there is room for something else, and that is gratitude.
We’ve all heard “an attitude of gratitude,” but gratitude is so much more than just an attitude. Gratitude has also been depicted as an emotion, a mood, a moral virtue, a habit, a motive, a personality trait, a coping response, and even a way of life. Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude describes it in two stages. The first stage is an acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. The second is recognizing that the source(s) of the goodness lies, in at least partially, outside of the self. In gratitude, we get to say yes to life and the object of that gratitude is “other-directed” at someone or something other than ourselves. Emmons, R. A. (2008). Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. P.4
Gratitude can help you to turn the table on how you view all this rapid change and uncertainty by pivoting your focus outward. If you Google “benefits of gratitude” you’ll see scientific research and an abundance of articles outlining how beneficial gratitude is for our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Gratitude is able to help you sleep better, improve your heart health, give you a more optimistic outlook on difficult situations, increase your empathy, decrease aggression and help you be more present in the moment. If you look at gratitude through this lens, it becomes an essential part of our self-care.
But, how do you start to shift towards gratitude, especially now when you may feel like you’re drowning in a pool of uncertainty? Practice.
Just like anything that may be a new intention or new habit, start small, pick something you can be grateful for right now, maybe it’s your pet, a friend, the sunshine, your family; take a walk in nature … you get the point. Gratitude is never self-directed, it’s always “other-directed.” Look at the acts of kindness you’ve been the recipient of, or even better, go do something for someone else. Even in this time of social distancing, you can lend a (clean and/or virtual) hand to both people and places that are in need. We are reinventing the way we interact, the way we provide much-needed services and how we can help each other. Gratitude emerges when we can begin to acknowledge the good around us and the sources of that good; if finding the good is hard right now, then be the source for someone else’s gratitude.
This is indeed a challenging time for all of us, but I’m grateful to be amongst a community of volunteers, alumni, and co-workers that are so dedicated to continuing to do good in the world. What are you grateful for today?
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
Looking for ways to cultivate your gratitude practice? Check out these resources:
- There’s an app for that: https://www.happierhuman.com/gratitude-app/
- 10 Ways to Express Gratitude: https://psychcentral.com/blog/10-ways-to-express-gratitude/
- 13 Most Popular Gratitude Exercises and Activities: https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-exercises/