COVID-19 Coping – Expressing Gratitude, Finding Optimism
by Mike Rupsch
Even in the midst of the COVID crisis, now is a good time to express gratitude for what we have in our lives. It’s helpful to be forward-looking and optimistic. Scientific studies show that regularly expressing gratitude increases personal happiness and resilience. It can, over time, positively affect physical health, too.
Gratitude causes a “softening of the heart” (actually mediated by the hormone oxytocin), which causes us to feel increased care and compassion for others. Here are some ways to experience and express gratitude.
Look forward, cultivating optimism
- Start your day by sending a quick gratitude email or text to someone you appreciate.
- On a regular basis, jot down (or think about) three things you’re grateful for.
- Thank and praise important people in your life often. It makes them feel good, and you will, too.
Looking forward to something positive that’s going to happen and feeling grateful will generate a sense of positivity. Being optimistic is a strong predictor of happiness. During a pandemic it may seem difficult to identify anything positive to look forward to. However, is doubly important to do so now, to keep us from falling into patterns of negativity. You can begin feeling more optimistic, even though you may be feeling grateful for something very small. Looking forward to your favorite things can add small bits of energy and interest throughout the day.
Here are everyday examples of small things most people can look forward to:
No matter how small something is, looking forward to it seems to make it more worthwhile. It can bring a spark of positivity to your day.
- A tasty meal
- Making yourself a good cup of coffee or tea
- Reading a good book
- Spending time with children
- Engaging in a favorite pastime (crafts, music, games, hobbies)
- Spending time outdoors, enjoying nature
- Connecting with family and friends through Skype/Facetime
- Watching a favorite TV show or movie
Remember ‘I Spy with my little eye?’
Here’s an idea for practicing gratitude that works well for the busy mind. Do you remember a game many of us played as children? It’s called “I spy with my little eye?”
The game is played by going through the alphabet, one letter at a time, identifying something you see whose name starts with a particular letter. You can apply this to the practice of gratitude while taking a walk or thinking about the good things in your life.
Here are examples of a person feeling grateful by using each letter of the alphabet.
Give this game a try on your next walk, or when you find yourself in an idle moment or when your mind is racing with uncertainty. Even in the most challenging moments you can probably still find something to be grateful for.
- A – APPLES in my refrigerator (it’s a blessing to have healthy, fresh fruit during these times)
- B – My BROTHER and his family are healthy
- C – My CHILDREN at play
- D – My DOG’s soft warm fur
- E – The ENERGY to go on this walk
- F – My FANTASTIC team members at work
Expressing gratitude to others
It goes without saying that we deeply appreciate the life-saving efforts and sacrifices made by health care heroes and first responders during this pandemic. However, behind the scenes there are many other people working hard to make sure things are in place, so we can all function and stay healthy. They desire recognition and our gratitude.
Whenever you see an “essential worker,” be sure to thank that person. The next time you’re in the grocery store, buying gas, see a delivery person dropping off groceries or supplies, — give them a smile and say “thank you.” Remind them that we couldn’t get through this pandemic without them. Write thank you texts or emails. Express your gratitude openly. If you have young children at home, you could create homemade thank you cards for your mail carrier or others. Little things mean a lot, especially during a pandemic.
You will quickly discover the secret pleasure of expressing gratitude — that is, both you and the other person benefit from it. Give it a try!
Mike Rupsch, LPC, LCSW, is an Account Executive with the Advocate Aurora Employee Assistance Program