"Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts." Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet, and critic
Just before my husband was due home in April, severe travel restrictions were put in place in both South Africa (where I live), and Sierra Leone (where he works) due to COVID-19.
As I write this, it's been 124 days since I last saw him. If you had told me a year ago that I wouldn't see my husband for four months or more, I probably would have said, "You'll bury me. I won't make it."
Yet, here I am today still hanging in there. I'm not saying it's easy: it's not. But I realized early on, I could either focus on everything I didn't like, or what I'm grateful for. So I chose the latter.
Even though my husband and I are 3,500 miles apart at the moment, I'm grateful that we are both alive and healthy, and that we have the prospect of seeing one another again.
The Gratitude Attitude
We're both grateful that he has a job while so many other people have lost theirs during the pandemic. I'm also grateful that we're able to support one another through the ups and downs of living in separate countries. But we still don't know when he'll be able to come home.
Of course, I'm also extremely grateful for technology that allows me to connect with him, my friends and my colleagues around the world. And I'm beyond grateful for my constant, loyal companion and "heartbeat at my feet" – Kaiser, the Rottweiler.
I decided to ask a few friends and colleagues how they used gratitude during this period of lockdown to help them cope with the situation.
Long-time friend and university buddy, Daleen Venter, shared the following: "I know for sure that if I didn't focus on gratitude, I wouldn't have coped. Every evening each of our family members (mom, dad and two young sons) say what they were thankful for that day.
Power of Gratitude
"It's helped us to shift our focus from what we were experiencing, to realize that we were still very fortunate. We felt humbled, and it motivated us to share our good fortune with others. Not just physically, but also through emotional support and encouragement.
"My husband helped others think of business ideas and helped them make plans to survive financially. At the same time, he made it a priority to help people deal with their fear and uncertainty.
"I believe that I kept depression at bay by being grateful and by not concentrating on my own problems – and it led to seemingly insurmountable problems being solved."
Colleague Michele Doucet also believes in the power of gratitude. Here's what she said, "I've made practicing gratitude a habit for a few years now. I first began my practice when faced with a life-threatening illness.
Gratitude: Practice Makes Perfect
"Every evening before I fell asleep, I recited what I was most grateful for in my life – love, family, friends, living in a safe country, having good food to eat and a roof over my head.
"In other words, the basic things that so many people in this world do not enjoy. My practice fueled my optimism and courage to deal with my treatment.
"During COVID-19, the benefits of practicing gratitude give me the mental strength to combat stress. I am well and thriving during the pandemic, something I am truly grateful for."
Another friend, Alison van der Walt, is grateful for technology that enables her still to be part of a social group with a difference. She is an expert fabric artist, but seeing that all gatherings were prohibited, she couldn't meet with other quilters.
So, she joined a virtual quilting group. In total, they were 145 ladies from all over the country! She said, "It inspired me to keep going on, although I was alone. The colors of the fabric, designs and art are always therapeutic."
Sanna Zahoor is another of my colleagues, and she revealed, "For me cultivating gratitude is like having a superpower. That doesn't mean that it is easy to do, but just knowing how powerful it can be definitely helps me to keep on trying.
"Being in a situation as unique as this, with so many freedoms removed (which we previously took for granted), really calls for a change of perspective. For me, that's where gratitude comes in.
"Being upset about a situation, such as not being able to socialize with friends, or see work colleagues, is of course a valid feeling. But dwelling on that really doesn't change anything.
Do the Write Thing
"What can change how you feel, though, is to feel grateful (in this case) for technology, for helping us to stay connected with friends and colleagues.
"Noticing this immediately provides me with some relief, and the realization that things could be worse. Sometimes we don't necessarily reach the point of gratitude when we are feeling low. So, something I like to do is to keep a gratitude journal.
"I note five things I've been grateful for that day before going to bed, allowing myself to notice them – in case I missed them when they were happening!"
My friend (and pro dog trainer) Henri van der Linde said that although he lost his income, he was grateful that no one can take his skills away.
Shifting Up a Gear
Another colleague, Midgie Thompson said, "I've used gratitude to shift my perspective on things. Rather than get fearful for all that was happening 'outside', I focused on the smaller things around me that I was grateful for.
"Things like 'the basics' of food, shelter and the internet (definitely considered a basic during this time!), as well as connection with friends and family.
"At times, I reminded myself to be grateful for my health, my ability to breathe and to be able to take care of myself."
The Gratitude Habit
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last Friday, we discussed the role and power of gratitude. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:
Q1. How can you be grateful if everything seems to be going wrong?
@MaryEllenGrom Change your perspective to focus on what is going right. Even the little things. EVERYTHING certainly can't be going wrong.
@ColeenWarden It's not always easy to feel grateful when everything seems to be hard. I think just taking one day at a time and celebrating your health, a hot shower, a good show that takes your mind off stuff or a yummy meal can be positives on hard days for sure.
Q2. Have you used gratitude as a tool to cope with a difficult situation? Did it work? Why/why not?
@WonderPix Gratitude helps us to change our perspective... being thankful for trees, sunshine, smiles, can take our focus away from negative things.
@MicheleDD_MT When dealing with cancer. It inspired optimism and resilience. I began my battle from a position of strength, and gratitude sustained me throughout the treatments.
Q3. In your opinion, what is the opposite of practicing gratitude?
@carriemaslen Sense of entitlement and sense of unworthiness.
@DrRossEspinoza Arrogance, inwardness, selfishness.
Q4. In what ways do you usually express your gratitude?
@lsmurthy99 Appreciation and being kind reflect the emotional connection of gratitude, in recognizing and valuing people and their perspectives.
@shamikv Pay attention, say thank you, and send out a prayer for people's well-being.
Q5. What helps you get into the habit of gratitude?
@JKatzaman Having a grateful and courteous mindset will make gratitude a reflex rather than an afterthought.
@hopegovind Reflect. Reflect how your life has positively moved in this journey. Realize how many people are around you to help you. Think how much your family and friends love you. Just got a call from a friend, he said, "You must stay alive, city needs you in this tough time."
Q6. Is gratitude a mindset or a ritual? Explain.
@J_Stephens_CPA If you need to develop it as a mindset, then the ritual can help.
@DhongdeSupriya It's a habit but can be developed at any age and juncture.
Q7. What are the benefits of practicing gratitude?
@Yolande_MT I feel buoyant and light when I practice gratitude. It opens up space within me for creativity, random acts of kindness, etc. I feel heavy and dense when I'm ungrateful. It's as if there's no space for anything else – it blocks out light.
@ZalkaB It helps you feel less alone or abandoned, unworthy. It helps you remember you're exactly where you need to be at the moment. It helps you be calm and at peace with yourself. Practicing #gratitude is helpful to practice new habits.
Q8. What is the connection between gratitude, behavior and performance?
@PmTwee Gratitude is a feel-good factor about oneself while being thankful to others, so obviously behavior will be mindful and hence lead to performance in what you do.
@NWarind When you are grateful to have work/business, your behavior changes, which mostly enhances your performance.
Q9. The gratitude habit develops mental strength. Agree/disagree? How?
@SizweMoyo Agree. Doing more to be more grateful for, we're willing to take more risks, bigger ones too.
@jo_stanford_pm Agree, it helps to start the day in a positive way and also to deal with challenges in a creative and constructive way when they do come. My mantra is, "If nobody died it is a good day!" in which case whatever is wrong doesn't need to be a big drama it just needs a plan.
Q10. How might you help others to develop gratitude?
@Midgie_MT Holding each other accountable by exchanging daily gratitude lists.
@SDFACUK By being grateful myself.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.
Cultivating the habit of gratitude can help you see challenging situations from a different perspective. But what helps you cope with challenging mindsets or beliefs? In our next #MTtalk, we're going to discuss our biggest challenges – and in our poll this week, we'd like to know which mindsets/beliefs most often challenge you. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed:
Broaden and Build Theory
Are You a Positive or Negative Thinker?
Coaching to Explore Beliefs and Motives
Deming's Five Diseases of Management
Building a Culture of Purpose in Your Organization
Understanding Workplace Values
Employer Branding: Creating a Worker-Friendly Culture
Managing a Person With a Victim Mentality
A Bit of Perfume
Leading by Example