Power of gratitude

Power of gratitude

There is a saying - “every day may not be good, but there is good in everyday.” But is that true even during challenging times like a global pandemic? I’ll be honest, I used to think gratitude was some airy fairy rubbish. I want to share a personal story however that suggests there might be something to this gratitude thing.

A personal story.

In 2009, after our second round of Invitro Fertilization, my wife became pregnant with twins. (The first round a few years before was very successful and resulted in our daughter Grace.) At the 4 month ultrasound, the one where they tell you if you should paint the nursery blue or pink, we learnt that one of the boys was healthy but the other had a serious birth defect. If he lived to full term then he might only be with us for a few minutes or a few hours.

We were referred to the High Risk Pregnancy Team at our hospital. We were also assigned a Genetic Counselor who explained my sons condition and what our options were. My son had a condition called anencephaly. At the time I couldn't pronounce "anencephaly" yet alone tell you what it was. We also referred to an end of life Palliative Care Doctor - which is something you never expect to have to do when you are having a baby. Finally we enrolled in the Birthing Centers Bereavement Program. It never occurred to me that a birthing center would have one, but they do and I can tell you they are very good. In the end my son Sam ended up living for 3 days before passing away.

Early in our journey I adopted an attitude of gratitude. I was grateful that we knew about Sams condition in advance so we could prepare for it. I was grateful for the tremendous support we received from the medical staff and our family and friends. I was grateful for volunteer organizations such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep who sent a volunteer photographer to record our precious time together. I was grateful for the 3 days I got to spend with my son and that he passed away in his mother's arms. I am grateful for the over ten thousand dollars we have raised in Sams name for March of Dimes over the years. I am grateful I have been able to support other parents by sharing our journey.

Losing a child is not fun and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However adopting an attitude of gratitude helped me tremendously in getting through the whole experience.

The science of gratitude.

My experience with gratitude isn’t a one-off though. There have been many scientific studies in to the idea of gratitude. A controlled study at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who expressed gratitude showed an immediate increase in their happiness scores. What is more, the effects lasted for up to a month! Psychologists at the University of California Davis found that people who practiced gratitude were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, and seeked medical attention less. Neuroscientists have discovered that practicing gratitude can actually rewire your brain to think more positively. Finally, researchers at Stanford found that people who are grateful are 50% more productive at work.

Practicing gratitude.

Convinced that it is worth giving this gratitude thing a go? Here are a couple ways I personally practice gratitude.

I start my day by writing down what I am grateful for. Writing in a journal or diary is one of the best ways to practice expressing gratitude. I am a morning person so I write in my bullet journal at the start of the day. Research suggests that expressing why you are grateful as well boosts the effect. All this only takes me a couple minutes and it gets my day off to a great start. If you are a night person then write down what you are grateful for before you go to bed. In fact expressing gratitude before bedtime can help you sleep better. 

Throughout the day I actively take the to thank people and show appreciation. If one of my children comes in from school and hangs their jacket up, I thank them for it (even if they left their backpack in the middle of the hallway.) If the bagger at the grocery store put my eggs on top of the carton of orange juice - I thank them. If I am carrying 10 bags of groceries in 2 hands and someone holds the door open for me - I thank them. If a colleague takes a minute to offer me a suggestion on how I can do my job better I thank them. It only takes a second but it’s a win-win. You both get the benefits of gratitude.

I also make the time to go for a “Good Walk” every day. A Good Walk is designed to boost happiness in several ways, including expressing gratitude. The short version is you walk outside gratefully. If you are interested in learning more about a Good Walk you can take a look at the website.

At dinner time we have a family tradition of sharing our “thumbs up and thumbs downs” for the day. Some people call these “roses and thorns.” This serves several purposes. First it gets the kids to tell us about their day instead of saying “they did nothing” for 7 hours at school! Second it prevents the whole dinner conversation revolving around everyone complaining about their day. No matter how “bad” their day was, everyone starts with sharing a highlight. We start by sharing what they are grateful for (the “thumbs up.”) We also talk about the thumbs down because it is healthy to vent but talking about “thumbs up” as well allows us to recognize that every day may not be good but there is good in every day.

So yes, if gratitude can help with losing a child, I think it can help in a global pandemic. I’m not saying that being grateful will make the pandemic (or any challenging time) “good” though. The pandemic certainly isn’t all puppies and rainbows. It will however make it “less bad.” If you are furloughed you can be grateful you still have your health insurance and you can be grateful for unemployment benefits (even if it can be struggle to get your claim in sometimes) - because not everyone gets them. You can be grateful for the extra time you get to spend with your family. You can be grateful for the time to catch up on projects at home. You can be grateful you are staying safe from the virus. If you be grateful you haven’t caught the virus.