There's nothing quite like a pandemic to put our lives
into perspective, even if it does throw our day-to-day into chaos.
As we adjust to life on lockdown, we're casting cynicism out with
COVID-19 and probing into positive psychology. Can we cultivate
an attitude of gratitude? Try these simple exercises.
Didyou well up when the UK collectively got off its
self-isolated sofa and clapped for NHS workers battling the
coronavirus? Our hearts were bursting. That's the power of
When times are tough, being told to be thankful can have the
sting of an insult. Yet we're not reaching for the rose-tinted
glasses here. Life isn't perfect. Gratitude simply hones our focus
on the things that should be celebrated. Whether that's unsung heroes of the current
crisis - healthcare workers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers -
or the fact that you can enjoy a longer lie-in each morning.
The word "gratitude" comes from the Latin "gratia", meaning both
graciousness and gratefulness. It shows appreciation for the things
we receive - tangible or not - and in turn, recognises that
goodness comes from outside of us, be it through other people, from
nature or even a higher power, if you're so inclined.
The concept has been bandied around for millennia. "Gratitude is
not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others"
mused Cicero in the 1st century BCE. A century later, Roman senator
Seneca embraced the spirit of stoic gratitude in the face of mortal
suffering. Most major religions - Theravāda Buddhism, Christianity,
Islam, Judaism - also espouse thankfulness as an integral step to
Today, the emotion has become the poster child of positive
psychology and a go-to for self-help types. Over the past decade,
led by California-based professor of psychology Dr Robert Emmons, scientists have
found a correlation between gratitude and wellbeing. It's a boon
for our mind and bodies they say; it's armour against stress and
depression, a shortcut to more fulfilling relationships and better
immunity, a natural remedy for sleepless nights, a boost for
feelings of hope and happiness and a helping hand for our own
self-worth. Of course, this isn't intended to negate professional
medical help, but when we're feeling down, anxious, overwhelmed or
all of the above, gratitude can be a great way to lift the
We're not the only ones caving to this joy-breeds-joy law of
attraction. Richard Branson and Arianna Huffington are among the
big names claiming that gratitude is the ticket to the good life.
"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more," writes
Oprah Winfrey. "If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will
never, ever have enough." Lady O reportedly writes a list of things
for which she's thankful each day. "Eating cold melon on a bench in
the sun." "Maya Angelou calling to read me a new poem." You get the
Yet gratitude doesn't come easy. Our survival instincts focus on
that which could harm us, while our minds are hardwired to like
newness and novelty. We get caught in the vicious cycle of thinking
"if only I had ___ I'd be happy" or "if only I didn't have to deal
with ___ I'd be content". But realistically, how long does the buzz
of a new spouse or house, a pay rise or shedding a couple of kilos
The cynics in us bemoan the commodification of gratitude, too;
that feeling needn't come with a price tag. You know what, though?
If you need a £9.99 "happiness journal", a mug emblazoned with an
inspirational quote or a monthly subscription to an app that gets
you into the habit of jotting down a few bullet points, go for it.
You do you.
In a world of haves and have nots, gratitude is a go-to for
those that have had enough. It's a glass-half-full frame of mind -
and lord knows that most of us could do with a gulp of that right
An attitude of gratitude in five simple steps
Some of these methods may feel contrived or cringeworthy, but
it's believed that with regular practice - as with deepening your
crow pose or polishing Spanish tenses - our capacity for
thankfulness will come that little easier.
Count your blessings
There are things that many of us take for granted: jobs, homes,
family, three meals a day. More essential still we have a heart and
lungs and opposable thumbs and all manner of cells and gristly bits
that keep us ticking. Yes, we're tiptoeing into miracle-of-life
territory, but it's pretty sunny over here. Of course, gratefulness
can be found in little things too, whether that's a good hair day,
a fresh drop of films on
Netflix or your flatmate (finally) taking the bins out.
Try compiling a list first thing in the morning instead of
scrolling through Instagram, or take stock as you wind down before
bed. Jot them down. Say them out loud. Make it part of your daily
routine or set aside a few minutes every Sunday. Aiming for five
bullet points works well for us.
Say thank you
Gratitude is a social emotion. Not only does it affirm goodness,
but it also makes us see how that goodness has been supported by
others. Who or what makes you happy? Write a note to a friend who
makes you belly laugh, call that aunt who never forgets your
birthday, hug a tree or, indeed, cheer health workers from your
doorstep. It can be incredibly cathartic.
Make visual reminders
One of the most common obstacles to gratitude is simply
forgetting - being mindful of our feelings 24/7 is hard. Post-Its
or photos are the most commonly used visual cues, but objects can
also help refocus the mind and tap into those gratitude reserves
Keep a gratitude journal
Consider this a longer-winded version of counting your
blessings. Journalling will really flex your gratitude muscle.
Think about ordinary events, your own attributes or valued people
who contribute to your personal ecosystem.
A small, often unnoticed act of altruism has been proven to
boost your natural tendency towards gratefulness and spread the
#positivevibes, whether it's "paying it forward" in a coffee shop,
picking up litter or simply checking in on someone in need.