Originally published in New York Spirit
With unprecedented lockdowns in many countries and staggering statistics of covid cases across the world, life seems to be getting topsy-turvy. Angst is the mood every day. Nightscape is lit by either insomnia or some unusual intense bizarre dreams. People who never could understand panic attacks are experiencing them without fully fathoming the reasons. How are we going to get out of this phase? Will we be left sane at the end of it?
Pandemic, epidemic, lockdown, quarantine, covidiots, asymptomatic, self-isolation, the terminology isn’t building just our vocabulary but also mental stress. We are displaying grouchiness and irritability. Consuming less news is somehow not helping. Because the reality is in our own backyard.
Struggles of people with loved ones in ICUs are another story in itself. Nights have been divided into slots. Every two-hour is a wake-up call. Mind dysfunctions. I swing between unruly thoughts of a worst-case scenario and then hushing the mind to stop thinking about it because what if the evil universe just pauses this thought and manifest it. Fear isn’t a funny business. Yet, humor does help. Dark comedy is in making. We are both the actor and the audience.
For a few of us, the rant of an apprehensive mind never stopped even when life was seemingly normal. The catastrophe might have halted our mind’s chatter a bit because there is no more “did I left the oven on”, “did I lose my phone”, “what if we all die”. It’s all here, on a platter. So, the fear of an unknown future is gone. An anxious mind isn’t less than any virus in itself. It’s now mutating into another strain. Novel “what-ifs” are slowly developing.
In these pandemic times, when anxiety overpowered me, once again, life was kind enough to give me signs. Signs whispering that when you feel you’ve nothing left in life, you’re just forgetting to look closely. A safe haven to live, good health, loved ones, empathy around, kind acts by strangers, nature blooming, and hope are more than enough reasons to keep going.
It’s easy to find gratitude when life is good. The real task is to find it when life seems unfair. It demands a change in perspective and plenteous amount of patience but all the benefits that it brings to mind and body are worth it.
Greater Good Science Centre did a study in 2016 to assess if gratitude is beneficial for people struggling with mental health concerns. The results were positive and further showed how it has lasting effects on our brains and improves psychological health. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2003 established that positive emotions including gratitude fostered resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.
Life isn’t fair or unfair, it is our judgment and perhaps the self-centered view that labels it. Afflictions in the form of illness, natural disasters, losing wealth and loved ones, all are as much a part of life as is happiness. Rainbows emerge only after the rains. When we accept that, we seek ways to adjust our sails rather than draining energies on changing the direction of winds.
When bitterness, grudges, unrealistic expectations, and anger takes up mental space, one cannot feel or express gratitude in their hearts. Every setback is a life lesson and probably a block to re-route our way to something better. When we know this, disappointments turn into hope and courage to continue, hurt transforms into understanding and forgiveness.
Even though everyone’s path to fulfillment is personal, there are a few misconceptions that one must be wary of while weaving gratitude in cloth of life.
Let it come naturally. If we force gratitude upon ourselves because all the positive quotes on the internet are making us feel guilty for not being grateful, the whole purpose might get defeated. It is not a Band-Aid to stick on sore feelings. Unless it emanates from within, it won’t work.
The times we are enduring today, it’s natural to feel anxious, frustrated, and miserable. While we try to find gratitude in bleak times, we need not forbid such emotions that may emerge. We don’t have to pretend to see the silver lining. If we cannot see it yet, it just shows our inner turmoil needs more time to settle. Allow that much time. Feigning might not last long and we would end up right where we began.
Gratitude is not a panacea. It is not going to solve our problems miraculously. It’s just a way to adjust our life-lens. There is no hurry and there is nothing wrong with us if we cannot see the gratefulness in coffee art. We all are supposed to have bad days, sometimes weeks. It’s advised to avoid clichés anyway.
When nothing works, kindness does. Unconditional kindness. Little acts of generosity and compassion boost our sense of well-being and uplift our spirits. It happens because we help with the pure purpose of illuminating lives of others. It brings light all around us as well. Gratitude comes as a by-product then.
Being alive itself is a blessing. Our whole spiritual journey is to return to that eternal bliss. On the path, we are allowed to be human. Erring, stumbling, learning all the while. Somewhere on the journey, we would learn how to appreciate both dark and light.
May gratefulness evoke naturally within us, at all times!