Gratitude: Do we have anything to be thankful for at the moment?

Close up of gratitude word with pen on notebook

Gratitude, and resilience, everything we need in these hard times - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week, I listened to a podcast by Riviera FM as Sharon Nelson from Heart of Torbay CIC, was interviewed last June by Dave Evitts.

The CIC’s professed role is to care for the mental health of people in the Bay, inspire and motivate, encourage others to live their best life.

This particular episode was about being thankful in lockdown – a recurring situation!

Thankfulness, gratitude, two very similar feelings: gratitude in the dictionary is listed as – 'the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness'.

She was able to describe how a 'personal coach' would advise one to register three positive things to be thankful for. 

What a prodigious idea, and if it seems tough at first, once you would 'get it', you could need a notepad, not a sheet to record them.

For sure, people have much to be thankful for, as much more kindness is being despatched these days.

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Hopefully, the section of our society that is struggling and suffering the most, from the dreadful recession associated to a third lockdown, is able to access some support from Government and direct supplies local foodbanks.

In this fact though, is there really room for gratitude? If appreciation is a means for people to value what they have instead of constantly reaching for something new to make them happier, how does this work if you have nothing, and by association, you are feeling low and depressed? Furthermore, what you receive is in your quality of 'being in need'?

The University of Harvard (Health Edu), after extensive research, declares that 'Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice'.

So, their stance is that you need to be thankful for what you have (and maybe receive) because otherwise, you will not know how to appreciate your current situation – this, in turn, will foster a state of depression.

Fittingly… I happened to watch a programme, on TV this morning, showing Amy Winehouse receiving her Grammy Awards in 2008. She was consecrated winner in five separate categories, a momentous moment in anyone’s life, a millionaire jackpot moment.

Yet, she was unable to express joy, contentment or gratitude – rather she told her childhood friend: “I cannot enjoy this moment without my drugs.”

I hear you say, this is a very far-fetched example… is it though? No-one will give you five Grammys anytime soon but have you ever felt that bitter resentment that what you have is not enough?

It is not what you want? How you want it? You wanted more, you wanted something different?There is the crux of the argument.

As I write this, I feel the taste in my mouth, a lump in my throat almost; a memory returns to my mind: in 1974, for Christmas - 46 years ago! - I dreamt of a 'Make-Up 2000' game.

For days on end, I imagined how I would use the blush, the lipstick, a real girlie fantasy – I was offered a dressing gown.

Yes, that bitter experience when what you face fosters an experience so real it becomes sensory. 

I still vividly recall the sheer sadness, I taste the almighty bitterness I experienced, as I felt that my dream had been 'stolen'.

So many of us have our dreams stolen at the moment: the young people in my own family, hoping for a future that has now been postponed so far ahead it may have to disappear altogether: how can they deal with this and find gratitude to express?

The local families whose income has become precarious, now often stuck at home to educate their children, fighting to stay afloat, struggling to see the wood for the trees in their position – do they feel that hope has been stolen from them? 

Has this belief they had in social mobility for their children now been taken away by unsteady online education?

Many of us who feel able to, purchase goods for the local foodbanks: the Larder, RE4orm, Path, the Haven and so many others found online on the Torbay Help Hub.

We do this because we care, we hope our gifts will make a difference to struggling families. I am certain they do!

But there must be a bitter-sweet feeling in receiving food for your children that you think you should be able to provide, no?

Even that in itself may hinder your capacity for gratitude.

Thankfully, I return to the advice I heard on Riviera FM – “Gratitude is a decision you make” – so how can we educate ourselves to find the small mercies in our own struggles, in these 'unprecedented times'?

Psychology Today recommends the following actions... all free and gracious and available to all of us:  

Firstly, gratitude opens the door to more relationships; a simple 'thank you' shows an appreciation that can help you win new friends. 

Secondly, gratitude is proved to improve our physical health; hence, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people and they exercise more.

Topically, gratitude improves psychological health while it reduces toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, frustration and regret.

This gracious emotion also enhances empathy and reduces aggression, enabling better sleep.

“Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.”

Finally, and even more essentially, gratitude improves self-esteem and increases mental strength. Repeatedly, research has shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. 

Acknowledging all that you have to be thankful for - even during the worst times - nurtures resilience.

Gratitude, and resilience, everything we need in these hard times. I am thankful, thankful that you have read my article. What will you be grateful for today? 

Be safe, be well.

Valerie Bailey

Valerie Bailey - Credit: Submitted