Five months in, it’s impossible not to think about all that we’re missing.
We miss seeing family and friends (Facetime and Zoom are wonderful, but we miss the warm, loving hugs). We miss dinners out, and going to the movies. We miss festivals and concerts and ball games.
There’s a lot to miss.
But, lately, I’m thinking more about all that we have, not all that we miss. Granted, people here and worldwide are labored with enormous hardships – failing health, financial loss, fractured relationships. But amid the hardships and strife, we’re also witnessing the enormous resolve of human beings, our ability to adapt, to conform to the times, and, simply, to “make the best of it.”
So I’ve decided to devote the balance of 2020 to gratitude. And I’d love you to join me. We can even stay in touch.
Some years ago I began a gratitude journal. It didn’t go too well. This time I’ll approach it differently. Less structure, more flexibility.
In preparation, I’ve spent the last few weeks researching, seeking to cull, from the experts, the best approach. The literature reveals two keys: consistency and creativity. To realize the enormous benefits of gratitude, one has to be consistent.
And to keep things going, one has to be creative – our brains thrive on novelty, so the same entries, week after week, won’t keep the wheels in motion.
Cultivating gratitude is a skill, and like all skills it demands time and effort. But the science is undeniable: investing in gratitude produces an endless stream of benefits: better sleep, greater self-esteem, mental strength and self-love. Increased resilience. Lower stress, anxiety and depression.
In a piece for heysigmund.com, Karen Young said: “Positive emotions tend to be like Teflon – they slide off us way too quickly. Gratitude lets us hang on to the
positive for longer…”
Gratitude has been called “the mother of all virtues,” helping humans develop patience, humility and wisdom. Some call gratitude the “social glue” that fortifies relationships.
But What About When Life Goes Badly?
There are cautionary notes, as shared by professor, author and noted gratitude authority Robert Emmons. In a brilliant piece titled: “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times,” Emmons wrote: “A decade’s worth of research on gratitude has shown me that when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. But what about when life goes badly? In the midst of the economic maelstrom that has gripped our country, I have often been asked if people can — or even should — feel grateful under such dire circumstances. My response is that not only will a grateful attitude help, it is essential.”
Later in the piece he writes: “Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth. So telling people simply to buck up, count their blessings, and remember how much they still have to be grateful for can certainly do much harm.
Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. It is not a form of superficial happiology. Instead, it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity. It means reframing a loss into a potential gain, recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude.”
So with eyes wide open, I’m planning to start my journal this Saturday, Sept. 12. As noted, I’d love you to join me. I plan to make entries twice a week (some insist daily, others suggest weekly, and there’s one study which concluded that “three times a week was too much.”) I’m taking the middle road.
I plan to follow the experts’ advice: focus on people and experiences, not things. And I’ll try to be specific.I anticipate short entries – perhaps a few words, maybe a sentence or two. My first entry will be, simply, “My wife,” though I may mention the scallops she cooked last evening (they were delicious!). And I’ll try to create new entries each time. And when the holidays roll around, I’ll do my best to read through my journal entries, ever so slowly, to see where I’ve been.
Want to join me? I’d be grateful if you did.