For those of us in 12 step recovery, we know all about writing gratitude lists. When I was in my first year of recover 34 years ago, my sponsor encouraged (read insisted) that I keep a journal that included a gratitude list every morning.
Since I was feeling nothing like grateful about my life given that I had recently hit my bottom of addiction, and was being strong-armed into going to daily meetings in a program I considered ridiculous, I argued that it would basically be lying to myself. I wasn’t interested in invalidating my hurt and suffering, as that was already the story of my life. She finally acquiesced to allow me to first write several paragraphs of rage-filled, petty, angsty complaints before attending to my gratitude.
Ultimately, it was a great model for me. I got to acknowledge my own pain and confusion, discharge enough of it by writing it out, and then open up a space for gratitude. And the gratitude came.
In the beginning it was fairly generic….I was grateful for a sunny day, or the weekend, or my dogs. It started to become more detailed as I became increasingly awake to my life…like the birds chirping in the morning, a chance to see friends over the weekend, and having dogs to snuggle me in bed. Despite my snarky resistance, it was clear from the beginning that listing things I was grateful for increased my experience of gratitude, and that seriously improved the quality of my days.
The real gift of making the list though was the creation of a habit of gratitude. I became more disposed to seeing the good, especially when I was in an edgy or bad mood, or when things happening in my external world were hard or dark.
The current corona virus pandemic, with the demand of social isolation, the fears of illness and death for us and our loved ones, the financial distress in our own lives and fearing a larger economic collapse, and the uncertainties of how long and how bad all of this is going to be, is a time when the external world is very very hard and frighteningly dark around the edges of our fears and imagination.
The thing is though, there are also all these amazingly beautiful things happening at the same time. The way a snow storm creates opportunities for neighbors to connect and gather together, this virus has also opened the flood gates of goodness and community. Everyday, mixed in with the frightening and enraging stories in the news, are all these gems of incidences of communities coming together, or strangers helping strangers, and people giving generously.
To prepare for this post I started to collect links to positive stories… acts of self-sacrifice, of generosity, of community, and it became clear to me that the number of stories were too endless to even collect a good sampling. I am settling for representations of different categories of goodness.
Dolly Parton is one of many celebrities reading bedtime stories for our kids
John Kransinski created a show to highlight all the good this is happening around the world right now
Lady Gaga and Elton John created big at home concerts and tons of other celebrities are offering weekly and daily mini-concerts for free, to lift our spirits.
Broadway has given us unprecedented access to plays and musicals to help us keep the arts alive in our hearts while home-bound.
Acts of Inspiration
The cover photo is my front window, which my son and I painted to participate in Rainbow Inspiration for neighborhood walks, a reminder that we are all in this together and need beauty and inspiration to survive.
The videos of Italians singing from their balconies and windows to suport and inspire each other were the first imagines to help me understand something novel and beautiful was happening in the midst of this nightmare.
Public Displays of Gratitude for our Health Care and Essential Work-Force
From London to North Carolina, citizens are applauding workers we now understand we have relied on to sustain us
Acts of Generocity
From famous designers to stay-at-home-moms, we have tons of folks making masks and other protective equipment for our healthcare works. Restaurants are deivering free food to hopitals, folks are coming out of retirement to work as EMT's and volunteers are offering up their services to do whatever is asked of them.
I suspect I am not alone to now be in better and more frequent contact with my extended family, and as a group.While video conferencing has been around for a very long time, in the absence of us all being able to see each other right now, video calls are now becoming a norm I suspect will continue to support our long-distance relationships long after social distancing measures are lifted.
Virtual offerings have opened a whole new world for folks previously burdened by infirmary, disability, anxieties or phobias, from being shut-in with access to community. Whenever we return to a lifting of restrictions, we now know there are many communal offerings we could make available to those unable to leave their homes, from church services, to support groups, educational opportunities and music venues.
Famous artists and others have offered their talents freely to teach us and our kids new skills, from Chris Helmsworth workouts to Mo Willems drawing courses. National parks and museums have created virtual tours, of great art, great natural beauty and great architecture.
Images of Love and Devotion
Grandparents meeting newly born grandchildren through windows, husbands being lifted in cranes to hospital windows to sign to their quarantined wives, families coordinating welcoming parties when their healthcare worker loved one gets home, and neighborhood kids having dance parties across the street from each other…I have been frequently brought to tears this last month by the lengths us humans will got to show our love and devotion to each other.
This is a crucial time for folks to learn how to invite gratitude into their daily lives if they do not already have this as a practice. And that is what it is…a practice, a discipline, a ritual commitment. Our eyes and ears and minds selectively perceive the world, because there is simply too much data coming at us externally and internally to note it all. We must chose to include the good in what we see when our fear center is directing our eyes and ears to only see the scary and negative around us.
The best practice is to start every morning, with a simple list of a few things you feel grateful for that day. If you need to first list our your fears and hates like I used to, go for it…just make sure you get to the gratitude part even if at first it doesn’t help you feel grateful making the list. Another way to insert the practice into your life is to do it when you suddenly notice yourself fixating on the negative. When you scroll through your social media and land on every scary or disturbing article, stop. It is not that we should eliminate the dark and negative and frightening news and stories and truths into our lives. It is simply that we must not intake them exclusively. We need to be aware of our patterns in perception. And we need to give our psyches material it can use to sustain us and our hopefulness.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.
If you were interested in this blog post, check out some of these:
Anxiety, Medications, and Lost Decades
How Can Therapy Help When the World is the Problem?
Life Isn’t Easy or Fair: Idealization Tortures us Thinking it Should Be