In a typical year, today would see millions of us taking to the roads, or the skies, to gather with our nearest and dearest. However, 2020 is not a typical year. Instead of holiday togetherness, many trips have been cancelled and plans scuttled in efforts to protect one another and stop the spread of COVID-19. It’s a fact – we are all missing out on a lot of time with one another. But even though we may not be able to physically be together this year, we can still connect. With a phone call, Zoom meeting, or even a socially distanced picnic, we can still be with those we love and spend part of the holiday with them – albeit at a distance. We can talk, laugh, and share stories, and think about what we have to be grateful for. Crisis, such as the one we’re currently dealing with, brings out the best in us. It reminds us to stop and think about what truly matters – our friends, family, pets, work, healthcare workers, you name it – and that focus is something we need to take forward with us.
Don’t allow the disruption that is 2020 define the holiday. Instead, pause, reframe and think about what you’re grateful for. There are so many things in the world that can cause us to feel outrage or sadness or despair. And while those initial feelings are earnest and sometimes justified, they shouldn’t always dictate our response. Take three seconds to pause, think, and breathe, and then allow a clear and present mind to choose the most appropriate way to respond to what’s going on around you.
While Thanksgiving brings the concept of gratitude to the forefront, it’s important to realize that gratitude is actually something that can serve us well through the remainder of 2020 and beyond. While it may seem ridiculous to think about gratitude in the midst of a pandemic, it really is worth the effort. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis says, “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.” What better way to combat a virus than to improve our immune function?
Emmons also reports that people who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake — as much as 25 percent lower. Stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people. And having a daily gratitude practice could actually reduce the effects of aging to the brain. Being thankful has such a profound effect because so many positive feelings go along with it.
Gratitude, especially in 2020, can also help you:
Experience fewer aches and pains. According to a 2012 study, grateful people report feeling healthier than other people. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health and exercise more often, which is likely to further contribute to longevity.
Help you sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes before bed has been shown to help you worry less and sleep longer and better. Another study found that gratitude predicted better sleep quality and duration and less sleepiness during the day. Researchers explained that when falling asleep, grateful people are less likely to think negative and worrying thoughts that impair sleep and more likely to think about positive things, thereby enhancing sleep quality.
Keep your heart healthy. One study involved 186 men and women, who already had some damage to their heart, either through years of sustained high blood pressure or as a result of heart attack or even an infection of the heart itself. Researchers had participants fill out a questionnaire to rate how grateful they felt for the people, places or things in their lives. It turned out the more grateful people were, the healthier they were. When blood tests were then conducted to measure inflammation or plaque buildup in the arteries, researchers found lower levels among those who were grateful — an indication of better heart health.
And perhaps the best thing about gratitude is that it doesn’t have to be approved by anyone. Feel free to use it as needed. No amount is too much. It is proven completely safe and effective for making you feel better about life in general, even the holiday season of 2020. Someday life will return to normal. It may be a new kind of normal, but we can help it evolve to a more hopeful tomorrow if we pause, reframe, and be grateful for what is, and most importantly, what is to come!