Gratitude and growth into life around the corner.
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Gratitude and appreciation. Always important, sometimes hard to do... But I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more gratitude than I do right now. That’s a little bit crazy, right? We’re isolated away from those we love and care about, our livelihoods are teetering on the edge of a cliff, our health is at risk, and the future of how we put everything back together again is cloudy and uncertain. This is a really tough situation, and it is perfectly normal to be feeling discouraged and defeated. But for me, after the initial two or three weeks of feeling “what the hell is going on here?”, I realized that more than ever, gratitude needs to be a foundation for moving forward and optimism about the future.
I have been working on a gratitude practice for a while now (before this coronavirus disaster appeared on the planet) by taking 5 minutes every morning to write down 3 things that make me feel happy or thankful from the previous 24 hours. Some days it’s big things, like seeing my daughters enjoy playing with each other more and more, and other days, it’s small things, like how beautiful the clouds are in the sky at that particular moment. It doesn’t seem to matter what actually goes on the list; what does matter is putting our mindset into a place of looking for the positives in our life. By doing this every day, it’s exercising our optimism muscles so that we are more likely to consciously or subconsciously identify the “good” around us as we move through our day. And it doesn’t mean ignoring the stuff that’s awful, either. But this approach of conscious appreciation does help to gradually shift us towards an overall more positive outlook and create the expectation that the future will be at least as good as or even better than our current situation.
As I’ve been consciously focusing on gratitude awareness over the past few weeks, I have realized that our current dismal circumstances have actually created the context for numerous things for which I am now extremely thankful. Getting to see the delightful side of my daughters that their teachers always tell me about. Time to bond and play with them and seeing their language and reasoning skills grow on a daily basis. Calmer morning routines. Space from my work, space to recognize what I really want from my career path. The fact that we are safe in our house and safe in nature. Less pressure to do weekly shopping, since we’re doing it in bulk. Naps with little bodies leaning on me. Seeing so many people united in efforts to take care of society as a whole. More discussion/awareness of how it’s truly not possible to do everything at once (i.e., work/parent/teach). Optimism that we might actually get our garden going this year. Easier bedtimes (though I’m not sure why this is the case). Not needing to save chores for weekends. Time/space to consider what is truly most important in my life and where I want to be going. Being self-employed and able to dictate my workload for myself. Recognizing that people in leadership positions are making decisions based on evidence (Cuomo, Fauci, etc.). Feeling more connected to strangers than ever before through a simple hello and smile while passing on the trails (from 6 feet away!). Knowing that there are clear actions to keep ourselves safe (isolation, distancing, bleach) for now. Living in Ithaca, surrounded by so much beauty and outdoor opportunities, and being a part of this very socially and environmentally aware community. Sunshine. (okay, I know that last one has nothing to do with the virus circumstances, but I am so thankful for the increasing sunshine that it had to go on the list!)
A lot of these things that make me so happy right now were things that I was wanting more of before the virus appeared. In some ways, there’s a part of me deep down inside that feels guilty for being happy about these things, in a “I caused this worldwide tragedy to happen because I was wishing for more time with my kids and a slower pace of life, so this whole disaster is my fault…”. Does anyone else sort of feel that way, too?
But that’s crazy talk. None of us caused this by wishing that life could be a little bit different from how it was before. And none of us are making things worse by appreciating the positives that this episode has brought to us. Of course it’s awful that people are dying. Of course it’s awful that people are getting very sick. But I think one of the ways to grow through this is to appreciate the beauty in our current situation, in spite of or in addition to recognizing that this is a time of immense personal and societal stress, and to start to ask how we can continue more of the positive elements when our lives return to “normal”. This is a time of transformation, which can be messy and uncomfortable and scary. But I truly believe that gratitude for what we do have represents the foundation for the joy that is coming down the road in our future. So, if you think it might be helpful, I hope you can take a few minutes to acknowledge the positives in the current situation (while releasing any associated guilt) and keep dreaming about what will be possible in life around the corner.
Sending love and health to all,