In the midst of the fear and panic of COVID-19, it feels so important to find gentle and realistic ways to protect our physical and mental health. A gratitude practice can be one way we ground ourselves, deepen our perspective, and validate the complexity of our experience.
Here’s a post on how we can cultivate this practice in a more authentic and gentle way.
What Is Gratitude?
I define gratitude as a practice of making space for appreciation. This appreciation could be for the people, things, and experiences we have in our life. It can also include appreciation for our own qualities and efforts we have made in our life.
How can I cultivate a gratitude practice?
- Incorporate a practice of kindness into your gratitude practice, where you are thoughtful about your needs and the realities of your life.
- Include gratitude for 1) people in your life, 2) how things unfolded, as well as 3) the choices you made. This balance helps you acknowledge your agency as well as the support around you even in circumstances when things do not go exactly as planned.
- Consider both formal and informal practices to see what feels right for you:
- Formal practice: You could either take 2 minutes every day or every week to write down or think about what you’re grateful for. If your intention is to increase your memory of gratitude, writing it down can be really helpful.
- Informal practice: Socially, we’re trained to go around saying thank you in really automatic ways. Look for openings in your daily life to make space for genuine appreciation. This is a great way to cultivate mindfulness and gratitude: thank the person who stepped away to give you 6 feet of distance, notice and appreciate the warmth of the water as you wash your hands, or send a thank you email to a friend who helped you out last week.
- Set realistic goals and boundaries: Create an environment that allows this practice to grow by:
- Identify a realistic goal: If three times a week for two minutes feels more realistic than everyday, start there.
- Create a realistic routine: Attach this practice to something you already do in a routine way can be helpful, whether it’s with your morning coffee or right after brushing your teeth.
- Protect time and energy for this practice: Before bedtime may not be the best time to try to squeeze gratitude out of yourself if you notice that you become a zombie after 8p. Identify and honor your rhythms, and find a time and space that works best for your intention of creating this practice :)
When Do Gratitude Practices Go Wrong?
Sometimes, the execution of our intention can make a practice get muddy. Here are some common ways gratitude practices can feel unhelpful.
- The either/or fallacy: Sometimes we think that we cannot be sad, mad, or hurt and be grateful. When people, families, and nations believe in the either/or fallacy, we try to force ourselves to reduce our feelings to one feeling. As a result, we may feel alienated from ourselves and can also have a hard time making informed decisions since we have essentially tried to delete emotional data to fit this fallacy of only one emotion is valid. Instead, allow for multiplicity of emotions.
- When it is used as shaming tool: “How can you ask for more when you have so much to be grateful for?” is a great example of gratitude becoming a shaming tool. This kind of language can make people feel quite bad about themselves, which takes away from the benefits we can get from a gratitude practice. I often see this dynamic in families where members have not processed their own past experiences of lack, abuse, or trauma. As a result, sometimes family members can appear unintentionally resentful and judging towards others who have had a more healing experience. Instead, offer validation to different experiences.
- When we force it: “The research shows that gratitude practices help so I MUST do it,” or “My therapist said I should do this, so I have to.” If you force a gratitude practice, it can be bring up guilt, self-judgment, and sometimes resentment, so be gentle with yourself. Instead, explore what might be getting in the way gently (e.g., are you already asking so much of yourself that this feels like yet another item on your never ending to-do list?, would it be better for you to notice gratitude more organically).
This practice can be really helpful for burnout recovery/prevention and stress. Here are some other posts on burnout, working from home during a crisis, and managing transitions, in case these concerns resonate with your experience!