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Holding gratefulness and grief

Let’s face it, as a community and as individuals, we are experiencing a mixed bag of emotions right now.  We may be grateful for a paycheck, shelter, friends and family to reach out to, food options and our health. Or we may actually be grieving a lack of income, companionship, and threats to our housing and well-being.

We may be grateful for more flexible time to be grounded and center ourselves or we could miss our alone time and feel smothered by time in quarantine.  We are sad to see kids miss out on milestones and dashed celebrations and our many cancelled events, concerts and gatherings that knit us together. And we deeply grieve the loss of friends and loved ones to the Corona Virus.

Edmonds Sunset, Photo credit: Danna Phillips Anderson.

We’re all over the place and it’s to be expected.

All of these experiences are valid, real and need space to be honored. If we notice, though, that our grief is spiraling into negative ruminations and sliding toward depression, it’s good to take a breath and reset ourselves in order to cultivate emotional resilience and greater calm in the storm.

Gratefulness can temper the grief.  So, let’s look briefly at a practice for experiencing more gratefulness, which is just a state of thankfulness.

So, let’s look briefly at a practice for experiencing more gratefulness, which is just a state of thankfulness.

McCraty and colleagues (1998), in one of their studies on gratitude and appreciation, found that participants who felt grateful showed a marked reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. They had better cardiac functioning and were more resilient to emotional setbacks and negative experiences.

Positive psychology and mental health researchers in the past few decades have established an overwhelming connection between gratitude and good health. Keeping a gratitude journal, for example, reduces stress, improves the quality of sleep, and builds emotional awareness (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005).

Exercise: Try this. At the end of your day list 4 things, (or 3 or 5 or whatever) for which you are grateful.

For Example:

  • Material things that bring you joy
  • Clean water
  • People who have helped you learn something new
  • That funny dog video of Mabel and Olive and the bored BBC Sports Commentator
  • Your health
  • As a community service someone offered to cut your hair. We are all grateful for that.
  • Your kids didn’t break anything today.  That’s a bonus!
  • People who taught you how NOT to behave. That was instructive.  Thank you.
  • Situations that felt supportive
  • Friends who listen
  • Your plants that grow even though you forget to water them sometimes.
  • Your cat. AKA the monk who lives in your house.
  • A really good cup of coffee just the way you like it
  • Someone smiled at you and said your name. How refreshing.

You can list these daily gems in a handy journal, online, in your daily planner, or you could write them on slips of paper and place them in a big jar/container. (At the end of the year you can open your jar and read through all your observations and appreciations!)  Alternatively, you can review your lists on days you’re finding life rather difficult to bear.

Practicing gratefulness on a daily basis can prime our brains to look for more reasons to be grateful. “Oh!  That’s something to add to my list tonight”, which shifts our outlook, perspective, and mood.

So, feel your blues, experience your grief.  Look for silver linings and opportunities to be grateful.

We have room to experience the full breadth of it all.

REFLECTION: Have I let people in my life know I am grateful for them?

Lisa Wellington

Lisa Wellington is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher who writes about integrative practices that downshift stress, increase insight, and jumpstart joy.

She is best known for her work with law enforcement professionals as well as those challenged by housing instability and addiction. Trained in the Fine Arts at Washington State University, she specializes in group training that engages participants’ inherent creativity.

If she is not under a stack of books about psychology and spirituality, she can be found at a Puget Sound beach or nearby trail, always searching for the absurd, which is her superpower. 

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