Focusing on gratitude is a sure-fire way to overcome the stress you’re feeling – whether from the Coronavirus situation or anything else. When you feel grateful, you’ll also be happier and more grounded, and you'll maintain a healthier life perspective that enables you to make better decisions.
As Coronavirus cases continue to mount and we face increasing restrictions on our daily routines, stress levels are growing even faster than the virus itself. With people stuck at home, cases of domestic violence have skyrocketed. Economic stress has hit new heights. And of course, too many consumers to count now find themselves the proud owners of more rolls of toilet paper than they purchased in all of their previous existence.
Last week, I offered several mental focusing tips I have been sharing with clients and readers to help them back away from the cliff, and quickly restore some calm and sanity to their lives. If you haven’t tried them yet, I invite you to do so. You can try them here – they really work.
In addition to these time-tested techniques, cultivating an attitude of gratitude will go a long way toward calming your nerves. I spend most of my time teaching people how to focus – how to achieve optimal ways of perceiving the world and the tasks before us that create the least stress and give us the highest levels of productivity and performance.
But just as important as how we focus is what we focus on. And one of the most empowering actions we can take is to focus on the people, places, events and things in our lives for which we are grateful.
Several studies show that when people express gratitude, they become happier, more optimistic, and feel better about their lives. According to the research, showing gratitude can also improve relationships, and increase motivation and effectiveness.
Expressing gratitude can even improve your overall mental health. Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, psychology and brain science professors at Indiana University, conducted a study of nearly 300 adults with clinically low mental health levels. Most were experiencing depression and anxiety. A portion of the participants wrote weekly letters of gratitude to another person for three weeks.
Their mental health significantly improved, and remained high even three months after they had written the letters. The other participants, who either did no writing, or wrote about negative experiences in a journal, did not show the same improvement.
Wong and Brown closely examined the data in their study, and concluded that expressing gratitude separates us from negative emotions and has a long-term positive impact on the brain. The benefits of expressing gratitude also accrue over time. In other words, the more you express gratitude consistently, the better you’re likely to feel.
How to Cultivate the Gratitude Attitude
There are many ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and reap the consequent benefits. Wong and Brown found that writing gratitude letters, even if you don’t send them, can be very powerful. But if you’re not the letter-writing type, there’s a much easier way.
You can simply note five or ten things each day for which you are grateful. You can keep a list or use one of the many gratitude journals available. One recent and excellent gratitude journal, which has earned bestseller status on Amazon, is Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler’s 100 Days of Thanking Hashem: Build Your Spiritual Capacity For Gratitude One Day At A Time.
Hashem is a Hebrew word that religious Jews use to refer to God (it literally means “the name”), and this book explores the spiritual side of gratitude from a Jewish perspective. However, the approach is one that anyone can use, regardless of their spiritual outlook.
I personally have found that belief in a Higher Power and a strong religious faith can greatly facilitate a gratitude mindset. But if that’s not your cup of tea, you can still easily cultivate gratitude simply by focusing on those things in your life that make you grateful.
Dr. Adler utilizes the Jewish tradition of saying 100 blessings a day, but in this case expressing gratitude 100 times a day. If that seems initially overwhelming, Dr. Adler’s approach is to build gradually. On day 1, you thank God for one thing (or if you are not religiously inclined, simply focus on one thing for which you are grateful). Each day you add, so that you are noticing 10 things for which you are grateful by day 10, and continue building to 100 items by day 100.
Another way to begin is how Dr. Adler herself began her gratitude practice – by expressing gratitude just before she drifted off to sleep for 10 things from that day for which she was grateful.
The power of this method is that it provides a framework for you to focus continually and consistently on being grateful. Even if you don’t make it to 100 items, just by noticing what you’re grateful for each day, you’ll notice your perspective shift to one of greater happiness and calm – something that is essential in these unusual Coronavirus times.
What To Be Grateful For? Let Me Count The Ways
So what can you be grateful for? Virtually anything.
Here are just a few of the many (100, actually) possibilities Dr. Adler suggests:
· the ability to see color
· the ability to read
· fingers that work
· not being in a hospital
· a home to live in
· being able to breath without assistance
· hot pizza
· white wine
· personal growth
· having a car
· yellow peppers
· meaningful conversations
· glasses that correct your vision
· movies . . .
You get the idea. You can be grateful for virtually anything. The big things and the little things. The important thing is to begin noticing whatever is in your life that makes a positive difference, and that can’t be taken for granted. By focusing on gratitude, one item at a time, your challenges won’t seem so daunting – or at least won’t be so all-consuming because you’ll be focused also on what you do have and what is going well.
But isn’t this too hard right now? People are out of work. The internet is full of bad news as the scope of the virus continues to expand. The situation seems more uncertain with each passing day, and we really don’t know how long this will last or what the future holds.
At a time like this, deliberately cultivating gratitude becomes even more important, perhaps even essential. When times are good, it's pretty easy to be grateful. But when life brings us challenges, focusing on what’s good can mean the difference between addressing our challenges confidently and calmly, or being consumed by them.
Do you have food to eat? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have a pet who gives you unconditional love? Do you have a favorite purple sweater that you love to wear? Is the sun continuing to shine? Do you have air to breath?
Whatever your situation, and whatever your challenges, finding something to be grateful for will help sustain you through the hard times. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your problems. Quite the opposite. Being grateful means placing your problems within a much larger perspective, and from that larger perspective being able to solve them more effectively while maintaining a more healthy mental state.
The proof is in the doing. Try it. You can start as Dr. Adler did and think of a few things you’re grateful for as you drift off to sleep each night (I’ve also found that listing things I’m grateful for upon awakening sets a good tone for the entire day). You can also use Dr. Adler’s method and her gratitude journal and work up to 100 items a day. Or you can simply begin by keeping track of your gratitude items in whatever way is most helpful to you.