The Power of Practicing Gratitude (Even in 2020)

Clearly, 2020 has been a year that seems to have taken more than it has given. And amidst the many hardships, stresses, and general uncertainties that have clouded each month of this year in a dark fog, it can be difficult to find things to be truly grateful for. However, it is during these times of crisis and turmoil that practicing gratitude can hold unprecedented amounts of power that had seemingly been taken away from us in our unsettled reality. Even as our world has shifted in this strange, new direction, recognizing and understanding that there are still very real things to be grateful for in life is the key to combatting the ever-pervasive “badness” of 2020.

Practicing gratitude is never intended to erase or mitigate the suffering that each and every person has endured this year. But it doesn’t have to in order to maintain its potency. The power of practicing gratitude is transformative in its redirection of mindset. It works to acknowledge the ebbing and flowing nature of life, reminding us to find those happy moments that certainly exist to balance out the sad ones. Sure, it’s easy to just lean into the mixture of anger, frustration, and sadness of the “2020 is the worst year ever” mindset, but it is never helpful or healthy to obsess over the many bad things that made it so terrible, especially since it may blind you from seeing the moments of good. As the holidays are approaching and the year is coming to an end, it can be particularly alleviating to pause and reflect upon what many (or little) things exist in your life to focus your thanks towards. Here are some tips to practice gratitude even in the darkest of times.

Remember: It’s the “Little” Things, Too

If you are having trouble finding something to be grateful for, you may benefit from fine-tuning your scope a bit. Try to find any little thing that makes you happy. Maybe it’s the fact that you got up at a reasonable hour today or the fact that you found time to sit down and watch a feel-good movie the night before. Maybe it’s just the fact that the sun is shining and you are here to see it and take it in. No matter how “little” these things may seem, it is important to remember that they are in no way insignificant! Pockets of joy exist all around us every day, we just need to be able to pull ourselves away from our focus on the bad to recognize the good. Practice looking for the “little” things to be grateful for each day. The more you train yourself to seek out moments of positivity in your present, the less you will be inclined to “wait out” the bad times. Good is happening here and now. Just look up and around you.

Do Something You’re Good At and Something that Brings You Joy

Some days, it can be helpful to create moments to be grateful for. This can come in two steps. First, do something that you know you are good at, where it is baking up some goodies, cleaning and organizing your kitchen, or just hugging a loved one to remind them that they are loved. It is important to remind yourself that, even amidst the stress and anxiety of the dark times, you are never altogether helpless. You can still make the choice to do things that you know you are good at, no matter how the world has seemed to limit those choices. As a well-rounded, resilient individual, you can always find ways to be your own light source. The second step is to do something that brings you joy. Perhaps this coincides with the first step, and perhaps not. Either way, find a way each day to do something that makes you feel good. This might just mean ignoring time late at night to finish a riveting series or a good page-turner. Or maybe it means calling up a friend that you haven’t had a good conversation with in a bit. Having an active role in creating moments to apply gratitude can have a transformative effect on your attitude towards life. Take control of what you can control in this tumultuous year: yourself and your choices to find ways to be happy.

Realize the Value of the Lows of Life

Life is all about balance. While 2020 may seem like an incredibly low point for most people, remember that it will not stay that way forever. This year is not an endless tunnel into darkness, it is simply a storm that we will endure and learn from in order to move forward into the light. It is also important to note that we can gain just as much wisdom from the dark as from the light—if not more. 2020 has certainly taught us many tough lessons that I’m sure we can all agree we could have lived without, but we have survived, and that is win in and of itself. A terrible day, month, or year, has nothing on your ability to overcome and move forward. This resilience, this ability to recognize what you may or may not have gained in the darkness and still emerging from it, is something that you can truly, truly, truly be grateful for. When all is said and done, what you know now that you may not have known then is your very real and powerful capabilities to persevere.

Write It Down & Pay It Forward

After considering all of these things, try to write them down as frequently as you can manage. On a particularly difficult day, you will be able to look back and see the little and great things that you have had to be grateful for in the past, and will hopefully be able to recognize the things that still exist when you are struggling to see them. Likewise, a huge and essential part of practicing gratitude is expressing it. Take this as a reminder to thank your significant other for making you coffee in the morning, or to just thank your family and friends for being around to listen to you in your darkest moments. Reminding someone that you are thankful for their existence helps to spread the positivity and light, which the world is always better with than without.

You can also find ways to express your gratitude through acts of kindness that you pay forward. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were first realizing the true value of family and of our essential workers, acts of gratitude seemed to be in abundance. There’s no need for that to stop now. If you are able to, pay for yourself and for the person behind you in line at Starbucks. Send a small care package to a loved one you haven’t been able to see in-person for months. Continuing this cycle of positivity and gratitude is a choice that we still have despite everything that 2020 has attempted to use to knock us down. You’re happier when you are grateful. And no “bad” year can ever take that power away from you.