Gratitude in the Era of a Pandemic

Modern farmhouse thanksgiving decor. Border with black and white buffalo plaid and rustic fabric pumpkins with Grateful wood sign isolated on a white background.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, can we be grateful for….wait for it….the Pandemic?! Maybe. I thought an invitation to all of us to reflect on those things we are grateful for about the pandemic might be an interesting exercise. 

According to the website Positive  Psychology in an article entitled What is Gratitude and Why is it so important the Harvard Medical School describes gratitude as: “A thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals–whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”  

Over the years most of us have taken some inventory on what we are grateful for. Often this is a tradition around the Thanksgiving dinner table to remind us of all the many ways we have been blessed. 

Obviously, the pandemic has been a source of much heartache, fear, stress and loss. These are not the kinds of things we say we are grateful to have experienced or to see our loved ones experience. At the same time pausing to consider what we have gained because of living through this pandemic can broaden our perspectives on the experience. It can even elevate our moods and our beliefs with regard to how we not only survive but even thrive in times of great stress. This can also be a meaningful exercise for the children in our lives to teach them that we can observe some positives even when surrounded by so many negatives. 

When I took some time to consider what I am grateful for in this era of Covid several things came to mind: gratitude for the gift of time, time to be reflective, to think and dream and explore my own imagination about what I want to do when all this is over; gratitude for learning that many of the things I value, like teaching and being a part of meetings, can be accomplished almost as well and in some ways even better through Zoom (who knew you could brainstorm on a website?); gratitude for the joy of learning about Zoom with friends and colleagues, enjoying new things they discovered were possible and sharing the discoveries I made, gratitude for opportunities to play around with recipes I found on the Internet; gratitude for the sense of shared experiences made easier knowing we’re not the only ones; gratitude for how many friendships have deepened because of more opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations; gratitude for social media despite its many flaws that allows me to share experiences and learn more about the lives of friends and family and having the extra time to check a few times a day without feeling guilty; gratitude for saving on gas.

Once you get started you can come up with many things that have been easier, more fun, more economical, provided opportunities to access your creativity and lessen your stress. Doing this gratitude work can allow you to model for your children that they can experience their own gratitude. Maybe you can make lists to post on the refrigerator and teach children how to journal what they are learning about gratitude.  

African American Man Writing In Gratitude Journal

Taking gratitude a step further is the concept of cultivating the habit of gratitude. Habits happens when we repeat them frequently enough that it eventually becomes automatic. On the website Positive Psychology, Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site, speaks of gratitude as a ‘natural antidepressant’. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can have almost the same effect as some medication. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level. 

“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.”  

And to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” 

I discovered several other inspirational quotes from the website Best Health in their article 17 Gratitude Quotes That Can Help You Feel Grateful. For example:

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie, author. 

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness—it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” Brene Brown, professor, lecturer and author.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of all the change forever how we experience life in the world.” John Milton, English philosopher. 

In this season of gratitude, considering the positives of the epidemic can contribute to feeling appreciative about how we have learned new things, grown in understanding, and discovered new meanings for our lives. At the same time, we can still be aware of our many struggles as we have navigated the pain, stress and losses Covid has inflicted on us. The good news is that we can have many perspectives related to an experience, some negative and others that are positive.

Invitation for Reflection 

  1. What does gratitude mean to you? What are some of the ways you have experienced gratitude in your life?  
  2. What are some of the specific reasons you can be grateful for experiencing about the pandemic? How does considering this impact your overall attitude for surviving a pandemic? 
  3. How can you encourage the children in your life to appreciate that there are things they can be grateful for as they live through this pandemic?  

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute