Miriam Mower, Psychologists at SINEWS explains to Madrid Metropolitan readers why this year of all years is a time for gratitude.
This Thanksgiving is certainly going to be different from other years. Many people won’t be able to spend it with their relatives or friends as they would usually do. This 2020, all over the world, we have all experienced the ups and downs that the pandemic has brought; confinement, health worries, adjustments at work, changes in our daily routines, either spending more time at home with our family, or not being able to pay those family visits which we took for granted.
It has also, however, enabled us to value other areas of our life, be it our health, family, friendships, or maybe even just having a job. In the same way, in order to cope through the quarantine, we have learnt to appreciate any benefits that the lockdown might have brought (such as having more time for self-care or time to spend with your kids), as well as the small things in our ordinary life, such as noticing for the first time how lucky you were for having that tiny balcony facing the sun in the mornings where you could sip your coffee, or how handy it was to have saved those old sweatpants to be able to exercise in the evenings.
Because the truth is, gratitude is a very powerful feeling which can help us cope through the toughest of times. In fact, studies have found that people who show more gratitude have higher levels of happiness and lower depression and stress levels
It is a pity, but a lot of us mainly experience gratitude after going through difficult moments. In extreme cases, for instance, people who have undergone near-death experiences have afterwards felt a deep sense of gratitude as an appreciation for what they have and nearly lost.
But what about our day-to-day lives? Sadly, we don’t typically stop and notice all the reasons for which we should feel grateful. This could be due to the fact that gratitude involves deeper cognitive skills which we don’t always put into practice.
Many of us, for instance, focus on the verbal aspect of gratitude, which can sometimes be understood as politeness. “Say thank you – he offered you his seat on the subway”, for example. But gratitude is so much more. Gratitude also includes the predisposition to notice our surroundings, as well as to think and realise how fortunate we are for what we have or who we have with us.
To practise this ability we would have to develop mindfulness skills; that is, the ability to stop and notice the present moment. This can be done in many different ways. On a physical level, for instance, you could go through your five senses to notice your surroundings; maybe on your way to work, instead of being deep in thought thinking of that ‘to-do’ list, you could instead turn your attention outwards and take in what you see, what you can hear and what you can feel.
By taking a step back and tuning to the outside you might encounter pleasant surprises (people being kind to each other, amusing situations, etc) which will help gain perspective and actually notice reasons to feel grateful. Another tool could be to keep a journal at the end of the day. Again, focusing on spotting valuable moments during the day, no matter how small they might be, helps us see the big picture. Did you have a pleasant meal today? Were you able to catch up with a friend you hadn’t spoken to in a while? Or did you make a friend laugh by sharing that meme you knew he’d love?
Lastly, let’s hope there’s not another lockdown. But if there is, ask yourself: Who would you miss spending time with? What would you long to be able to do? This can again help us appreciate either people or activities which make our life more meaningful and enjoyable.
How about sharing this appreciation with them? It doesn’t have to be with any grand gesture, but being able to share how much someone means to you, such as how much they make you laugh at work, for example, might make you feel closer and more connected.
How about if we start practising gratitude today? What small step could you do today for Thanksgiving?
Miriam Mower is a fully bilingual psychologist daughter of a British couple established in Spain. She works both with children and adults using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy always keeping in mind culture and diversity as part of human experiences.
SINEWS is a Mental Health Private Practice based in Madrid working since 2008 for the expat community. At this time they are fully operative through their online platform: www.sinews-online.com as well as available for in person sessions at their center in Calle Sagasta 16 bajo derecha, Madrid