Did you know that November is National Gratitude Month? I did not — though it makes perfect sense with Thanksgiving quickly approaching. I decided this might be a good time to focus on this positive topic and how far we’ve come in the last two years since the pandemic.
The Coronavirus is more in control than before, but more than 21,000 people are still hospitalized with COVID in the U.S. at this writing, and experts aren’t sure what the virus will do next. We remain hopeful though, even as we move indoors into colder winter months. Some people, myself included, who have gotten more complacent, (slathering on less hand sanitizer than before for instance), realize the “regular” flu is upon us now too, and see the possible need to step my protective game back up a bit …
Regardless of personal stance on masks or copious amounts of sanitation products, it’s an excellent time to ask where we all currently stand when it comes to gratitude and happiness? It’s obvious that the pandemic brought on many negative feelings and experiences, but even during this dark time, most of us could still find appreciation of things we valued. And although it’s true our world has now changed forever, I consider how much we have learned about what we value most, and exactly what really matters.
I believe we’ve been granted the unique gift of truly living life again! As best-selling author and psychotherapist Esther Perel said, “There is a world of difference between “not being dead” and “being alive.” And as I look back at what we have all experienced, I make note of the things I am grateful for- both during those harrowing months of 2020 and now.
Who would have thought that simply sitting in the same room with other people we wanted or simply needed to connect with — would become a privilege deemed so dangerous, it would be taken away? Though many of us grew tired of it at some point, I personally thank God for Zoom, Slack, and other technologies that gave us the ability to work, as well as keep in touch with friends and family during 2020. It allows us to better connect even now, with remote coworkers and with those who still aren’t fans of travel or meeting in person.
Connecting only via technology also gave me a real appreciation of the cues personal interactions provide. It’s difficult to truly “read the room” when all you see is someone’s head on a screen, or even view them behind a mask. Today, I have a much greater respect for body language, facial expression – especially eye contact, and the physical and emotional energy we all give and receive as human beings.
Aren’t we all now acutely aware of how meaningful it is to see a genuine smile? Even that of a stranger! I mean, you could kind-of tell by the crinkles beside someone’s eyes, but really — isn’t it a wonderful sight to see a smile without a mask?
SIMPLE GESTURES OF KINDNESS
Even those of us who did not work on the front lines of the pandemic battle felt fear, fatigue, anxiety and a strange type of anger toward a monster virus that seemed to be attacking humanity. If we were blessed to keep ourselves and our closest loved ones safe, we still empathized with the suffering and loss experienced by friends, family and even people we had never met who were sharing their story in the news.
During this struggle, many of us felt a renewed appreciation for every breath we take, every hug or simple conversation we enjoyed with a family member. We saw a surprising amount of kindness shown, and discovered our own degree of joy in doing things we knew would help others feel better, even if it was only in some small way. A gesture as simple as dropping off a meal to a friend who is under the weather took on new meaning when that friend – or their entire family, literally couldn’t leave the house due to testing positive for Covid-19. We did do what we could do to help. And when someone did those little things for us, it meant the world.
During 2020, my friends and I, inside and outside the work arena shared the latest info on where to buy scarce necessities — everything from toilet paper to PPE. We reached out to say hello, send a Far Side cartoon, silly meme, virtual hug, healthy recipe… basically we checked in to say you aren’t alone. I’ve tried to ensure that I’ve truly thanked those people who had my back during this time. When things felt particularly uncertain, when it was impossible to really plan, difficult to dream and hard to cope, it was important to have people around who would be 100% real. We all need folks who are our cheer squad or simply great at listening. It didn’t matter how we managed to connect during the pandemic — we were grateful for the connection. I’m grateful to have learned how crucial it is to slow down and stay connected to them … even as we emerge in this busier, post-pandemic world.
MY JOB & COWORKERS
It was never lost on me how fortunate I was to work for a company that allowed all employees to bring their computers home to work during the lockdown. I am equally blessed that e-Relationship is a digital marketing tool — so our clients were incredibly grateful to have a system that kept them connected to their clients and prospects. We are all proud to be a part of something that helped the financial services industry forge ahead during this surprising and difficult time.
From an employer standpoint, retaining employees (especially good employees) may be a bigger priority than it was prior to the pandemic. In fact, according to a report from Willis Towers Watson1, two years after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, 92% of employers reported that “the employee work experience” is a priority. Employers WANT their employees to be happy, content in their positions – partly because that will typically lead to increased productivity and performance. (Please note, I found it interesting that prior to the pandemic, only 52% were concerned about how happy their employees were with the work experience.)
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
At least in my circle — both personally and professionally, folks are optimistic but still cautious. Our gatherings are naturally less huggy and more fist-pumpy … We’re so grateful just to be together though, no one takes much notice. It’s ‘the new normal’ and we roll with it, feeling joyful and privileged to not be as separated and distant as before. Many of us are happy but feel a lower level of underlying stress, because — quite frankly, we thought something like the pandemic could really only really happen these days in the movies, right?
But it turns out that practicing gratitude actually helps us cope. While researching my writing of this post, I learned that expressing gratitude has been scientifically proven to assist us in managing stress and feeling happier.2 So says Robert A. Emmons, Ph. D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. In just one study involving nearly 300 adults seeking counseling services, one randomized group wrote a gratitude letter each week for three weeks. The gratitude group reported significantly better mental health (compared to the control group). This was even true at follow-up, 12 weeks after the last writing exercise.
Another type of written gratitude practice is counting blessings, or “Three Good Things.” A study found that those who practiced acknowledging gratitude in this written form of noting three good things that took place each day, also reported the overall experience of things going well for them. These people were significantly happier and less depressed, even six months after the study ended.
Having studied this for over a decade, Dr. Emmons found that expressing gratitude for things we appreciate brings the following benefits:
- Stronger immune systems.
- Not as bothered by aches and pains.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Exercise more and take better care of their health.
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.
- Higher levels of positive emotions.
- More alert, alive, and awake.
- More joy, optimism, happiness, and pleasure.
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate.
- More forgiving.
- Feel less lonely and isolated and are more outgoing.
So, while we may employ National Gratitude Month to draw attention to the art of being thankful, it’s a practice that can help us every day — whether times are stressful and difficult, or we feel like we’re cruising down easy street. Practicing gratitude upgrades our mood, improves our productivity, strengthens our relationships and creates a happier, more successful workforce. And it’s free! One more thing to happy about …