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Practicing Gratitude in Hard Times – and Always

Spiritual wellbeing: to translate it into simply ‘religion’ or even ‘faith’ would miss a large part of the importance and relevance that spiritual wellbeing has for all people. Spiritual wellbeing is much larger, and can be understood as “finding purpose, value, and meaning in your life.” Because our spiritual wellbeing is tied to our sense of purpose, it acts a lot like emotional wellbeing in how it relates to the other dimensions: purpose within a community (social), purpose and value at work (occupational), educational goals (intellectual), and so forth. Our sense of purpose and the value and meaning we find in our lives impacts our mental health directly in how we think about and see ourselves. 

In this time of pandemic, spiritual wellbeing is along the whole spectrum. Those who have lost jobs or whose small businesses or families are suffering may feel that their sense of direction and purpose has been damaged. If one understand life’s meaning through social interactions, sheltering in place may present challenges to one’s sense of self. Thforced change may bring pain, confusion, and even ambiguous grief. This is normal – even expected! 

On the other end of the spectrum (although very possibly concurrent), many people have found renewed value and meaning within their communities in a way they may not have experienced as intensely before the pandemic: supporting charities and nonprofits, bringing supplies to neighbors who can’t go out, donating to funds or food banks supporting those in financial distress, sharing their talents and expertise as free resources online, being the voice that shouts encouragement instead of fear, or even reinterpreting business resources to address community need…the list can go on, because the ways in which the ‘helpers’ have stepped up are as diverse as people themselves!  



Whether you are suffering and focusing on necessary self-care or find yourself energized to help, I have one practice that applies to all: gratitude. Gratitude is “a state of mind that arises when you affirm a good thing in your life that comes from outside yourself, or when you notice and relish little pleasures.” 

Hopefully you’ve been hearing this already, and I would love if what follows here is redundant to a spirit you’re seeing everywhere: “Let’s flood the space with thankfulness!” However, our brains naturally fixate on the negative, so it can take diligent practice and constant reminders to make gratitude a reflex so it functions as a natural reaction to adversity in our lives. Why would gratitude help? Gratitude forces us to take a second look at our lives and focus on the positives while considering our lives without them. It reinforces a sense of abundance in our lives, prompts us to appreciate others (diverting self-centered pity), enjoy small pleasures, and trains our brains to pay attention to life’s positives. 

Wellbeing Benefits of Gratitude 

Research shows that expressing gratitude – and the internal feeling of gratitude that follows it – can do a great deal to improve our health and happiness. Gratitude promotes better sleep, can decrease stress and lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, increase energy, improve mood, and increase generous behavior. It’s never too early to start this practice: gratitude in youth has been linked to more hope, greater engagement with hobbies, better scholastic performance, and greater satisfaction resulting from lower depression and materialism. Some studies have shown that gratitude even has the power to reduce and heal traumaalthough the healing power of gratitude takes time and consistency. 

  • Emotional: Practicing gratitude inhibits stress hormones by releasing dopamine and serotonin. 
  • Social: Practicing gratitude with others strengthens relationships through a sense of connection while fostering compassion and kindness. 
  • Spiritual: Practicing gratitude increases resilience, “your ability to find purpose in whatever’s happening and be better prepared for the inevitable setbacks that occur.” 

Practicing Gratitude

Inspiring Gratitude in Others

Whether your staff is grinding away at your physical location or far-flung in home offices, this is the perfect opportunity to promote a gratitude challenge.  

…in the family

As you may notice while digging into these resources, gratitude is closely related to mindfulness, and begins with paying attention and a refusal to take things for granted. Many within our workplaces and communities are in hard times, and emotional strain is even present for those blessed with the flexibility of working at home. But this is our chance to alleviate that stress by practicing gratitude personally and openly with each other to apply this spiritual balm – both now and in the future. 

The fun thing about gratitude is that it can be contagious. In worrisome times, get out there and start a movement!