Practicing Gratitude During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: Jul 30

The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected everyone globally and left many people feeling stressed, frightened, and overwhelmed. We are currently living through unexpected and trying times; no one was prepared for the many changes that COVID-19 has brought. From losing close friends and family members to business closures, and entire cities and countries going into lockdown, it is important to remember that the pandemic has impacted everyone differently - while we are all weathering the same storm, we are not all on the same boat. We will all be experiencing a wide range of emotions during this time that will change from day to day or even from one minute to the next, and that’s okay; this is what makes us human. That’s why it’s more important than ever to focus on practicing gratitude to help us become more optimistic and turn negative thoughts into positive ones. This way we can transform uncertainty into resilience.

Being thankful and practicing gratitude can be one of the most effective ways to contribute and impact as it allows us to see the best in each other and in our lives. Gratitude feels good to give and receive, it helps us relax, is good for our mental and physical health, and can help us stay well through the pandemic and beyond. While the news related to COVID-19 can be discouraging, these situations do have positive outcomes as well: the pandemic has had a major impact on air quality globally, and people have been expressing gratitude by helping others around them (offering to pick up their neighbor’s groceries, run errands, organize fundraisers, check in on family members, organizing game nights, and leading meditation and yoga classes for the masses both online and in-person). Researchers have found that people who show appreciation often feel more connected, optimistic, and lead healthier and happier lives.

What are the benefits of practicing gratitude?

Thinking about what you are grateful for can shift your attention away from stress and refocus it on the people you support and the people who support you. Being grateful also keeps you grounded by improving optimism and offers a wide range of benefits:

  1. Gratitude disconnects us from toxic and negative emotions. Practicing gratitude shifts our focus to positive emotions instead.

  2. Expressing gratitude helps even if you don’t share it. Studies have shown that writing letters of gratitude can lead to a calmer outlook during stressful times, even if you don’t share them.

  3. Gratitude improves your immune system and lowers your risk for mental illnesses.

  4. Gratitude settles your physiological stress response.

  5. "Being grateful" deepens your ability to feel genuine appreciation in many more contexts.

  6. Gratitude makes it easier to reach out to others and facilitates community building and connection. Especially during this pandemic, when we might be physically apart from many families, friends, coworkers, schoolmates, and acquaintances, reaching out and telling people you appreciate them builds bridges and keeps those connections intact.

  7. Gratitude sets you up for success. Grateful people have been found to be happier, exercise more, and eat healthier diets.

It is important to take note that the benefits of gratitude are not instantaneous and take time to kick in. You might not notice the benefit of daily or weekly practice, but with consistency over longer periods, you will. Practicing gratitude has long-lasting effects on the brain, and allows us to reserve priorities to help us appreciate the people we love and the things we do. Feeling grateful has also been found to have a positive correlation with kind and helpful behavior, as well as delaying gratification/reward.

How to practice gratitude

To help make this a regular habit, set aside some time each day to intentionally practice gratitude. Try one or more of the following activities to start:

Write down the things you are grateful for (this doesn’t have to be a long list, keep it simple).

Try Listing:

  • One safe place that relaxes you

  • One thing that’s going well in your life

  • Three things you enjoy

  • Three things you’re looking forward to

Use the HEART acronym questions suggested by the American Heart Association:

  • Health: What did your body allow you to do today? This can be as simple as breathing and walking, which we might be taking for granted.

  • Eat: What did you eat today to nourish yourself?

  • Activity: What action did you take today that you really enjoyed?

  • Relationship: Who brings you joy? Who do you look forward to seeing?

  • Time: What are you doing now? Be in the present and allow yourself to be grateful for the fact that you’re here.

Other activities to help you practice gratitude and make it a habit is being mindful during mealtimes, counting your blessings before going to bed, thinking of what you’re grateful for each morning, and practicing self-care. If you are having a hard time feeling grateful now, don’t beat yourself up, give yourself some grace and allow yourself to process your emotions at your own pace, however you need. We are quick to judge ourselves and others when we are not at our best and it is completely normal to experience a range of emotions during this time. We can show gratitude by taking simple actions and doing what we all need to do. Keep at least 2 meters distance between others when in public. Stay at home. Wash your hands often and well. Most importantly, take good care of you, eat well, exercise, and try to get quality sleep if you can.

Being at home and changing our routines presents us with new opportunities for growth, and encourages us to have a greater appreciation of what we have and what we often take for granted. In times of crisis, it is important to stay connected to others; gratitude can help us with this and will make us more resilient as a result. Social media, online calls, emails, and phone calls can bring us closer as we physically distance, and practicing gratitude can help you cope and boost your peace of mind.