In times of scarcity
By Martha E. Fagan, RN, BSN
Truth be told, we may not feel as though there is much to be grateful for right now. Not surprisingly we’re feeling our lack more than our plenty. I get it—we’re missing so much right now it’s hard to have the bandwidth to look at what’s working well or what little gems have been uncovered during this time of deprivation.
And, I’m here to remind myself and you that we’ll benefit greatly from taking the time, just a few short minutes a day, to strengthen our “gratitude muscle”.
Extensive research has been done identifying the many benefits of a gratitude practice. This article from Harvard Medical School summarizes studies done demonstrating the lasting positive impact of gratitude.
Not surprisingly however as with so many other things in life—gratitude takes work. Robert Emmons, one of the researchers cited in the article above has written extensively on gratitude. In his book, Gratitude Works! he reminds us of this, “We do not acquire gratitude; we cultivate it through daily practices that make it a deeply ingrained disposition….A French proverb states that gratitude is the memory of the heart—it’s the way our heart remembers. If you want to be a grateful person then you must remember to remember.”
I would add that before we can remember we must notice! We can help ourselves notice by working to develop a lens of gratitude through which we see our world. During COVID that can be a tall order AND I think it’s doable with some simple steps.
Make a Gratitude Jar and place it in a conspicuous place for all the family to see…the kitchen island, the coffee table or near one of the entrances to your home. Leave some slips of paper & a pen nearby so you can jot down something you’re grateful for…your morning walk, your garden, or your Amazon food delivery…the small simple things in your day.
Write a Gratitude Letter. Think of people who have made a significant difference in your life. If something happened to you (or them) tomorrow would you regret never having properly thanked them for their role in your life? This exercise is so powerful…
It has an even deeper impact if you actually mail the letter or better yet, read it aloud to the recipient. Teachers, neighbors, friends, relatives, partners, children, parents have all helped us in innumerable ways—telling them how is a gift to them, doing it now is a gift to you. When you sit down to write you’ll feel a lift as you savor the memories elicited by the writing AND by imagining what a wonderful surprise it will be for the intended recipient upon receiving the letter.
Surprise someone you love by Gratitude Bombing them. This is so much fun! Get some sticky notes and write all the things you love and appreciate about the person—little things like “I’m grateful for your hugs”, “I love your smile”, “I’m grateful you cut the grass”, “Thank you for helping the kids with their homework”, “I’m grateful you make the coffee!” You get the idea…then stick the little notes in places to surprise them. I posted them all on the refrigerator doors one morning.
Or maybe you use The Mindful Pause to bring to mind one good thing for which you’re thankful. The Mindful Pause is a simple breathing technique using our breath to help us focus on the moment and then choose how to move forward:
- Breathe in deeply—be aware of the inhalation
- Breathe out deeply—be aware of the exhalation
- Now call to mind one thing you’re grateful for right now
We’re really suffering right now, some of us are experiencing deep grief, loneliness, and/or fear about being able to provide for our families. My suggestion to look for ways to build your gratitude muscle may sound trite at best and insensitive at worst. AND, I’m suggesting it anyway because I know how it’s help me through the worst of times and I trust the science that shows it works.
Robert Emmons sums up gratitude’s benefits, “…the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects on and in our lives. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of kindness, generosity and cooperation.”
Given all the benefits, why wouldn’t we try to be more grateful?
If we implement a gratitude practice now in the midst of this “swampy” time imagine how easy it will be to continue when things improve!
I’m grateful for the Bacon Free Library’s Monday morning email that allows me to talk to you. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Martha Fagan is the Vice Chair of the Bacon Free Library. She may be reached through her email at [email protected]