Within a year, Covid has completely flipped the world and the way we look at things. None of us anticipated such large-scale repercussions. We’ve all lost something to this pandemic: forfeited opportunities, health issues, financial crunch, staying away from family to losing friends and relatives. The shift in our physical and social world has definitely had an impact on our psychological health. We are overwhelmed and stressed, constantly worrying about the health and security of our loved ones. Stress, anger, sadness, frustration, numbness, exhaustion: we’ve experienced it all.
Social media, popular influencers, relatives, friends, that far-off cousin or even the next-door neighbour – everyone seems to talk a lot about being grateful. While ‘stay positive’ seems to be the mantra that everyone talks about, people often ask me – does gratitude or thinking positive even work? What could I possibly be grateful for in this pandemic?
To answer those two questions, let’s first understand what is gratitude.
In simpler terms, it is the practice to help people acknowledge and appreciate the good things in one’s life. We make the conscious choice of choosing to look at the bright side than continue to feed the cynical thoughts. By doing so, we help offset the negative emotions that breed along the uncertain times.
The effects of practicing gratitude are usually seen in the long run, and not immediately. You can compare it with doing home workouts – some days it is easy, some days it gets difficult to even think about it. Either way, you know you’ll be better once you’ve done it.
It can be as simple and specific as being thankful for the flowers growing in one’s garden or partner doing up the remaining household chores or building skills to get that job. The intention is to recognise the smaller things that make us experience positive emotions (like happiness, love, contentment, gratitude) during the course of the day, which could have otherwise gone unnoticed: a newfound appreciation of things that we have.
Why gratitude works?
- Gratitude works in tandem with being mindful or being completely aware in the here and now of the moment. When we are continuously exposed to a stressful environment, it is slightly easier to slip into the distorted thought process and experience a spiral of negative emotions. It is with gratitude that we begin to shift our attention and energies from the default pattern of responding and try to see the situation from a different perspective. In many instances, it directs the path towards acceptance of the current situation.
- Reframing one’s perspective consciously helps to step away from our negative thoughts: from only focusing on everything that is going wrong to sit through the situation and look out for the silver lining. Gratitude gives us the time to sit peacefully, reflect and redirect our energy. Once we are able to do that, we develop more space for empathy and lesser room for aggression, resentment or envy.
- A popular theory in the field of positive psychology explains how the very experience of positive emotions helps an individual look at their environment from an open mindset and bank on their personal resources to find creative ways to effectively cope up with the stressful situation – something that is narrowed down when we go through negative states.
What could I possibly be grateful for in this pandemic?
Asking someone to just suddenly switch to being grateful, without any clarity or support can be difficult. After all, everyone has suffered in some way or the other. It can look misguided, privileged or even minimising of a person’s experience. It is important to realise that downplaying a person’s difficulty is not what it intends to do. Sometimes it may be difficult to even think to be grateful about the situation and that’s alright. One cannot force it. It could possibly indicate that one still need to work on their underlying emotions.
Expressing gratefulness is one way to help break the chain of distressing thoughts and sometimes that itself has the power to fuel hope and energy in us.
Reshma* had lost her job due to the pandemic. She shares, “Being the sole breadwinner in a family of 5, my job loss came as huge blow to us. I felt so angry and helpless about my situation. I went for counseling which is where I was introduced with this concept. What practicing gratitude did for me was to reduce that feeling of restlessness and inner turmoil. I was slowly able to accept the situation and work on making it better”.
Sahil* lost his father to covid last year. He shares, “Since he was tested positive, we couldn’t have a funeral. It was difficult and hard to not have been able to do the rituals and bid goodbye to him. But in spite of the circumstances, he could see us all. He led a good life with his wife, children and grandchildren – that did reduce the weight of the loss a bit”.
Rishi* summarises his experience with practicing gratitude stating, “The pandemic was an emotional roller coaster ride. I just felt exhausted with everything. Where the gratitude journal helped me was to reduce my complaining behaviour. It deliberately moved my attention to the things that I may have taken for granted and knowing that felt enough – for now at least”.
What am I thankful for in this pandemic?
I’m grateful for video calls that help me see my parents and brother every day, for my friends and family here that have always checked up on me. More importantly, I understand the role of a healthy lifestyle much better now.
So just pause for a minute and think… what is it that you are grateful for today?
Priyanka Bantwal (enrichyourmind.in) is a Psychologist and Researcher. She specializes in elderly well-being, perinatal mental health, anxiety, depression, anger and stress management. An avid writer, she has been writing blogs and articles as a medium of generating mental health awareness and psycho-educating people.
Image by John Hain