Photo by Simon Maage/Unsplash
Person holding sign "give thanks." You can begin a gratitude practice when life is hard.
Photo by Simon Maage/Unsplash
A gratitude practice begins with noticing the small things.

We are all doing our best to manage the anxiety of pandemic living and accept that hopefulness through envisioning the future is complicated at best. It may seem strange to begin a gratitude practice when life is hard. But if not now, when? With all of the uncertainty and confusion about how to manage risk we need to focus on what we know, what we are thankful about-especially now. Even this moment has a gift.

In the stillness of our “shuttered at home” world there are opportunities to center ourselves with gratitude. Gratitude is defined as the awareness of things to be thankful for in our ordinary life. When we are open to the gifts of gratitude we notice that so many things are “given” without our asking. This grateful openness can then lead to a deeper sense of fulfillment.

So how do we begin a gratitude practice when life is hard? We start small, because most of the gifts of gratitude are small things. Once we have established the foundation we can then work our way up to the biggest challenge to gratitude which is finding the silver linings in our most desperate, painful times.

Breathe

Let’s start with breath. Pause for a moment to breathe deeply, you may want to close your eyes to block out visual clutter. Take a slow breath in through your nose, and an equally slow breath out through your mouth. Now take two more breaths. You have just connected with the very most basic thing we can give gratitude for in our life. Our breath. This is a common link to all other living beings on this planet. We all breathe. As a Psychological side note: Breathing slowly and with awareness is also the quickest route to calming your mind and mood. Take time during the day to breathe and give gratitude for the essential gift of life.

Notice

This morning a scarlet cardinal hopped in the wet grass outside of my window. Spring colors seem especially bright this year to me. I’m guessing that the season has always been vivid, I just wasn’t paying attention. Today the cardinal is a gift. Have you also been noticing more lately? You may want to begin writing down your gifts of gratitude.

Daily Gratitude

For the month of June, consider writing 3 things that you are thankful for each day. Make your list specific and as unique as possible. As an example, my family members (including Dude) often make my list. But instead of writing “Dude” I record it as “Dude’s wagging tail when I woke up” or “Dude’s soft fur to pet.” The little red cardinal made my list. The fascinating thing is that the process of noticing and writing it down rewards your brain to continue noticing.

Be patient with yourself when beginning a gratitude practice when life is hard, it will get easier- even if your life doesn’t. When used consistently, gratitude is effective in reducing depression and anxiety. If you keep your list in a journal or on index cards with the date, it becomes a nice savoring experience to look back on those gratitudes on gloomy days. Savoring is associated with happiness.

Share

Your gratitude practice not only has the super-power to transform your perspective, but it can also enhance your connection with others. This is a BOGO offer: Your gratitude will increase your satisfaction in life and will extend to the people that you love. Begin to share your gifts of gratitude with others. Talk about the little things (which really aren’t so little) with the people around you. It totally beats complaining!

In May I celebrated my one year “workiversary” at the new office. I am grateful for so many things, but listing them increases the sense of gift. Here is a sampling of my gratitude list.

I am grateful for:

  • Family that helped me move and rearrange my many things (many times) until it was “just right.”
  • Colleagues and friends that celebrated my solo practice through calls, visits, flowers, and cheese cake.
  • Clients who made the move with me and continue to work hard at healing.
  • The opportunity to do meaningful work in a beautiful space.

I hope by reading my gratitude list you caught the feeling of positivity, and it inspired you to look at your life with gratitude. Double the value of these gifts of gratitude by sharing your thankfulness with others.

Practice

Mindfulness exercises are meant to be practiced, not perfected. A gratitude practice can boost our weary spirits even now in the midst of the pandemic. Paradoxical gratitude is a particular form of gratitude which describes the intentional choice to look for the silver linings during emotional storms. We can find gratitude even in circumstances we don’t want in our lives. Despite the real hardships, good things have still been happening in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Have you found a gift during the pandemic? Maybe you’ve had more quality time with your immediate family, or learned a new skill. Slowing down and reflecting on the good in this hard time may lead to changes to moving forward so we can “return to better” than normal.

When you begin a gratitude practice when life is hard it will impact your resilience. Seeking the good encourages us to stay in the here and now, and take life one day at a time. It can be a comfort to notice the gifts we receive regularly and give thanks. Our conversations will be more positive, and our anxious thoughts can redirect to our health in this particular moment. Wishing you the gift of beginning each day in gratitude, especially now.

Health & Happiness,

Dr. Lisa Marotta

Want to learn more about gratitude?

Cool Dates to Celebrate in June:

  • June 6 Drive in Movie Day
  • June 8 Best Friend’s Day
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