Gratitude and generosity are more important this year than ever. Right now, it is easy to fixate on the negatives, on the things we can no longer do, and on the things we have had to give up this year. All of our lives have changed in innumerable ways and it can be difficult to do the things we love. Moreover, it is an even larger struggle to spend time with the people we love. Nevertheless, we should not dwell on these changes. During times of struggle, it can be tempting to turn inward, to focus on ourselves and all the ways that we are missing out.
Personally, I have found that this achieves nothing positive and only brings me down. To pull myself out of that negative place, I make an effort to remember the elements of my life that I am grateful for. Last spring and summer, I was stuck at home in my small town after being sent home from time abroad that I had been looking forward to for years. I was feeling quite sorry for myself (which I’m not proud of), and couldn’t help but dwell on all the experiences, connections, and learning I had missed out on. During this time, I began to include a section in my journal about the positive things in my life that I feel grateful for. This has helped me to put problems in perspective, and to recognize the truly wonderful pieces of life that I am lucky enough to experience. When I reflect on all of the ways that I am fortunate in this life, and on the people who care about me, it is much more difficult to remain in a low place. Sometimes, this exercise takes the form of pages of writing, and sometimes it is just a simple list of the things, large and small, that I am grateful for in that moment. For example:
Some things I am grateful for:
Morning coffee with maple oat milk and cinnamon
Small paintings of flowers
A good connection on Facetime
My mom’s cinnamon roll recipe
I encourage you to write down a list like this, to remind yourself of the things you have to be grateful for. Creating a consistent gratitude practice can be amazing for your mental health. To take it a step further, you might look at this list and seek out ways to honor the people and things that appear on it. This will shift the focus from yourself, and spread the positive effects of your practice to others.
If you are looking for another way to deepen your gratitude practice, you can take a look at this app called Gratitude, recommended by our founder, Ivy. It has many journal prompts, and allows you to add pictures to your journal. You can even set a timer each day to help you make gratitude a habit.
Now, not to be contradictory but, I want to acknowledge the importance of gratitude for yourself. This is an important part of a gratitude practice! There is a lot of value in recognizing the things you do for yourself and others, and thanking yourself for doing them. Be generous with yourself too. Treat yourself with a moment to breathe, or an extra hour of sleep, or maybe a sweet from a local business (then you are giving back to yourself and your community!). I encourage you to take care of yourself, as it is difficult to express generosity and gratitude to others when we do not take note of the amazing things we ourselves do in our lives.
Generosity and gratitude are closely related. We can, of course, express our gratitude for someone else’s generosity towards us, but we can also project gratitude out into the world with generosity. The act of expressing gratitude is beneficial for our relationships, and for our own mental health. Be generous with your gratitude. Give it away like you would a smile to a puppy or a kind word to a family member or partner. That is to say, give it away often and with ease. This might take the form of a verbal thank you, or a small gift or note, or it might be a simple act of kindness. Tell the people in your life how much they mean to you, and show it with acts of care and help. Support others in your community and circle. Not only will it brighten their spirits and yours, you never know who might really need your thanks. The same can be said for acts of generosity, in your inner circle and in your wider community. As the weather turns colder and darker, we can all appreciate small gifts, kind words, and help when we need it, from friends and strangers alike.
Minnesota had its first snowfall of the year recently. Although I grew up in a snowy town in the mountains, and have nothing against snow, this was not an event that I was particularly overjoyed about. For me, snow in Minnesota signals cold, dark days in which I struggle to find joy and light, and the occurrence of inches of snow about a month too early served as a reminder of what is to come. However, I have tried to inject some positivity into it by getting into the holiday spirit a little bit early and brainstorming ways I can brighten up the lives of my friends and family. Although I am far away from my family in Washington state, taking the time to think of the ways that I will make them feel special and loved during the holidays is making me feel closer to them. I have been practicing saying ‘thank you’ more often, and appreciating the ways in which people make my life better (and letting them know when they do!). I hope that you will be able to do the same. Gratitude is a skill and a habit, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Every week this month, I encourage you to find a new way to express your gratitude to those around you. Get creative with it! You might find that you get just as much out of the act as the person you are appreciating does.