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Practicing Gratitude in a Pandemic

Saturday Spark #60

By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO

I want you to write down, right now, three things you are grateful for in this pandemic, in addition to you and your families health and our front-line workers. (For those of you reading this via email, you can even hit reply and tell me the three things). What are you grateful for, right now?

When I was asked to do this recently with no advance notice, I started my list with three letters: PPP. I then crossed it out and expanded it to “government funding.” I am extraordinarily grateful that we have unemployment benefits; that many businesses, including WeSpire, qualified for the Payroll Protection Program; and that other programs like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Main Streets are starting to kick in. Yes, the application process has been rife with problems, but unemployment insurance didn’t even exist until 1935. I can’t even imagine the social and economic devastation this pandemic would be inflicting without these funds.

The second item was an unexpected benefit on the homefront: “teens getting to sleep.” I’ve watched my 15 year-old get an extraordinary amount of sleep over the last ten weeks. I think he’s grown another two inches as a result. Even the twelve year-old is sleeping in, just getting up at the time she would normally arrive at school. The irony is that they aren’t going to bed that much later than they did before. They are just getting the sleep their bodies need. We’ve had a battle waging in our town for years over the start time of high school. If nothing else, this pandemic has reinforced that school starts way, way too early. 

I had the hardest time with the third, mostly because once I got going, I could think of dozens of things I am grateful for in the midst of all the chaos and heartbreak. I finally chose four letters:  Z-o-o-m. We’ve used Zoom for over three years at work. I never felt anything special about it before. It was video conferencing software. It worked a little better than a few others we’d tried. It was more affordable than a few others. Now it feels like my lifeline to my team, my customers and prospective customers, my friends and my family. I go to church on Zoom. My kids go to school on Zoom. How Zoom has managed to scale without having massive performance issues is pretty amazing to me. Yes, I realize security remains a concern, but I still can’t imagine life without Zoom during this pandemic.

Just by making this list, you and I are now on a path to be healthier than we were five minutes ago. People who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems and experience less pain. They are more optimistic and happier. They are more helpful, generous and compassionate. 

However, it turns out that practicing gratitude in a pandemic has additional significant, relevant benefits. First, it makes us feel more positive and optimistic about the future. Even as we start to open up, we are still knee-deep in disappointing revelations about camps, schools, concerts, sporting events and facing even more profound issues like job insecurity and business closures. By practicing gratitude, it lessens the psychological toll that these mounting losses and anxieties bring.

Second, research has shown that practicing gratitude can help us be kinder, even in frustrating or highly competitive situations when we might be prone to being vindictive or self-serving. As we start to reopen, we will be faced with new limits. Long waits to get into a store, get on an elevator, get an appointment or pick up at a to-go counter. Fewer spots on the beach or the park. We recently had a local ice cream parlor open up. A few customers grew so frustrated with the line that they started berating the teenagers working there. It got so bad that the owner ultimately decided to close the shop and not reopen for a period of time. The stress and anxiety of this time is causing people to “lose their squash” as my friend Annie put it this week. The more you practice gratitude, the less likely you are to lose your squash in a way you regret.

Many people practice gratitude with a journal and write every day. That’s certainly the most proven way to get the benefits. However, I am also a fan of “gratitude bingo.” I pick something that I see frequently but not constantly, like a fire truck. Then whenever I see one, I think of something I’m grateful for. However you choose to weave gratitude into your life over these next few months, I think you’ll be grateful you did.

Quote of the Week:  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

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What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.

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Read Previous Week’s Spark: 3 Ways to Address the Mental Health Impact of Covid-19

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