The 2020 Goodwin Gratitude List:
How to practice appreciation during difficult times
From past to present day: The greatness of gratitude
Gratitude is a quality that has existed since the dawn of evolution. Engrained in survival, appreciation, in any form, is an essential example of human adaptation and advancement over time. Even the earliest homo sapiens recognized the value in showing gratefulness for others, and in return, the significance of someone showing thankfulness for us.
Appreciation can also be seen throughout ancient history. Greek storyteller Aesop is quoted as saying, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” The Athenian philosopher Plato acknowledged, “A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts itself to great things,” and Roman scholar Cicero once stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
Whether you’re thankful for your past, present, or future possibilities, gratitude can reveal itself in several forms.
Gratitude can be:
- An emotion — a touching experience and temporary state when we recognize something good has happened
- A practice — an ongoing activity reflecting optimistic attributes in one’s life, or
- A trait — a characteristic illuminating how grateful a person you are
A precious quality of the present day, having gratitude during this 2020 holiday season does not minimize the catastrophes of our current circumstances, and making an effort to be thankful is not a means to pretend everything is okay.
The science behind the sentiment
Although it’s hard to take a break from the daily hardships we’re all facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, gratitude can provide a surprising respite from the harsh realities and offer hope for the days ahead.
When we express appreciation, our biological and psychological functioning is almost always affected.
- When we steer our neural pathways toward thankful thinking, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that evoke pleasurable emotions.
- In the limbic system, two main sites regulating emotions, the hippocampus, and the amygdala, activate with gratitude.
- Studies also show that appreciation can lead to better cardiac functioning and stronger immune systems.
- Through activation of the hypothalamus, gratitude can improve the quality of deep, healthy sleep.
- Giving thanks can also regulate stress by reducing cortisol levels and releasing toxic emotions — ultimately decreasing anxiety and depression.
In addition to the abundant health benefits of gratitude, below are a few real-time reminders of things we can be thankful for this year:
A humbling time in history
- Bygone of our blinders. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, many realized that our actions truly impact others’ lives. And, in the middle of the public health crisis, we should be grateful that those who lack such awareness, in turn, show us their true colors.
- Shining a light on systemic issues. Whether it be the increasing amount of time to reflect or many internalizing their purposes during isolation, long overdue matters in our country like racism and police brutality are being brought to the forefront and creating a rise in outspoken advocates and allies seeking social justice.
- Social distancing and slowing down. This year, many of us have learned to let go and appreciate the small things. We’ve practiced the art of pressing pause and living in the present.
- The stigma surrounding mental health. Social isolation has allowed many people to make a note of their mental health. Between news segments on the rise of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in our healthcare heroes or companies offering an increase in options for telehealth mental health counseling, our country’s strong stigma surrounding mental health is weakening.
COVID conjures creativity
- 2020 has given all of us cause to get creative. Maybe this year, your hobbies have enhanced, or perhaps you’re an educator navigating your way through the world of online instruction. Whether you’re building forts and playing board games that bring your family together, or if you’ve passed by drive-through birthdays and baby showers, we’re all finding unique, crafty ways to celebrate while still staying safe.
Gratitude for going outside
- Never before has a breath of fresh air been so appreciated. With stay-at-home orders in place and varying levels of lockdown, everyday environmental factors like clean water, fresh air, sunshine, and sunsets seem that much sweeter.
- The need for mother nature. Exerting pent up energy through exercise and staying connected to the outside environment through activities like walking and biking also seem more necessary than ever, and gratitude for the outdoor activities is also prevalent.
Halting to assist others in need
- A push to project positivity to the masses. This year, actor John Krasinski started a YouTube series called “Some Good News,” an idea so inspirational that it quickly grew internationally.
- Helping with hand-sanitizer. Distilleries retooled their resources to produce hand sanitizer for those in need.
- Making a difference manufacturing masks. From home sewing machines to multi-million dollar commercial companies ceasing production to make masks and personal protective equipment, many rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to lend a helping hand wherever they could.
Thankful for healthcare heroes and essential employees
- Working past the worry. Gratefulness should be given to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, first responders, mental health counselors, teachers, and all of the frontline workers continuing to get up and go to work every day to make our lives a little easier.
Increasing appreciation for those in our lives
- 2020 has taught us that time should be treasured. Social distancing is causing many of us to spend more time with our loved ones than usual, making more meaningful connections to those closest to us.
Pets helping to heal
- Animals assisting anxieties. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a rise in rescue pet adoptions and furry foster care.
Technology to the rescue!
- Connecting virtually with cousins to the classroom. From applications, webchats, and Wi-Fi to professional meeting platforms, social media, and virtual tours, proms, weddings, and reading circles, many of our moments in 2020 would not have been possible without the presence of technology.
Looking through the lens of gratitude
There are several plus sides to being thankful. Below, are a few more worth mentioning.
- Appreciation helps to broaden perspectives and see more possibilities in the excellence of everyday life.
- Expressions of gratitude provide encouragement, induce upbeat emotions, and enhance mood.
- Filtering thoughts to focus on thankfulness also leads to “pay it forward” behavior.
- Gratitude also makes employees more efficient, productive, and responsible.
- Those who are thankful are more likely to volunteer and be team players. Managers and supervisors who are appreciative also have stronger group cohesiveness and communicate with consideration and compassion.
- Gratitude helps build long-term relationships and improve interpersonal connections.
- By building social bonds and reinforcing prosocial responses, feelings of social isolation are lessened, and fostered are social exchanges needed for families and teams to succeed.
- Gratitude nurtures coping mechanisms and enriches emotional awareness and resilience, reducing the need to feel control in our environment.
- Thankfulness helps others bounce back from adversity and barriers.
- Gratefulness shifts internal attention away from negative emotions, reducing rumination, and increasing mental resilience.
- Studies also show that those who are more grateful tend to have more energy and enthusiasm.
Here are a few ways to get going with gratitude:
- Create a safe space for gratitude sharing sessions.
- Express thankfulness to your partner.
- Couples who express their gratitude sustain relationships, feel more comfortable going to one another about concerns, share mutual trust, and have overall happier relationships.
- Generate a gratitude list or journal.
- Dedicate the left column to who or what you are grateful for, and use the column on the right to reflect on the deeper meaning of your thankfulness.
- Pay attention to those around you going above and beyond and act on your acknowledgment with sincere kindness.
- Generally, the more detailed and concrete the compliment, the better.
- Start self-confidence exercises and see the difference in your self-esteem.
- Think about those who have inspired you and why — whether it be despite something they’ve done or because of something they’ve taught you over time.
- Utilize mental subtraction and imagine what your life would be like if a positive event had not occurred.
- Write thank-you notes and meet with those who make a difference in your life.
- Cullinan, S. H. A. R. (2020, November 19). How The Ancient Practice Of Gratitude Helps Modern Teams Thrive. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/harmoncullinan/2020/11/19/how-the-ancient-practice-of-gratitude-helps-modern-teams-thrive/?sh=497cfa6f3a94
- Todd, C. (2020, June 1). The Healing Powers of Gratitude. SELF. https://www.self.com/story/gratitude-benefits
- com. (2020, January 9). The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/
- Psychology Today. (n.d.). Gratitude. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gratitude
- Wallace, J. (2018, October 22). 21 Inspiring Ancient Quotes About Gratitude. Organic Authority. https://www.organicauthority.com/buzz-news/21-inspiring-ancient-quotes-about-gratitude
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