Starting 2021 the right way by cultivating gratitude 


By Sakuni Weerasinghe

If there’s anything 2020 taught us, it is to appreciate the little moments in life. It opened our eyes to appreciate what we have, to be thankful for the people around us, and encouraged us to reflect on our privilege of having our basic needs met during a time when half the population was struggling to make ends meet. We also saw lots of people bring up the concept of gratitude and the importance of rooting ourselves in gratitude. So, in starting the new year the right way, let’s review what we know about gratitude and explore ways to cultivate it in 2021.

Gratitude is a practice and concept that is highlighted in positive psychology. It was observed that a large portion of psychology focused on malaise, and that therapeutic interventions were often solely aimed at managing symptoms of illness. However, positive psychology, a field pioneered by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, focuses on understanding what enhances wellbeing and happiness in individuals and what enables them to flourish. Given the domino effect of happiness, the practice of gratitude is understood as a means of enhancing both the personal and collective wellbeing of individuals. Hence, in the aftermath of 2020, all of us collectively could benefit from the practice of gratitude. All the more reason to start right now, wouldn’t you agree?

The word “gratitude” is derived from its Latin term “gratia”, which means graciousness. As such, gratitude could be understood as being humbly appreciating and accepting what is received. This could stretch from something like enjoying a steaming cup of tea safe in the comfort of your home to appreciating being surrounded by your kids 24/7 due to the pandemic schooling restrictions, although it can feel overwhelming at times. Some of these instances may seem trivial and may not even register in our minds. However, the point is that there is joy in our everyday lives if we learn to recognise it.

Gratitude may not be a panacea, but it helps improve our quality of life across many dimensions. Not only does the practice of gratitude improve our mental health, but owing to the close interrelationship between the two, it can also improve our physical health – for example, our heart health and quality of sleep. It can help promote resilience and acts as a buffer from stress.

Our expression of gratitude may be through word or action. Action that stems from gratitude can have a ripple effect and contribute to the betterment of the lives of others – for example, through a random act of kindness such as permitting a frontline healthcare worker to go first in the checkout queue of a supermarket or making a donation to a family in need of help. This in turn can have an influence on others to continue this chain reaction that is also referred to in literature as “reciprocal altruism”. If you’re wondering how, simply reflect on how perusing through a social media page that showcased handing over groceries to people affected by Covid-19 pandemic prompted you to reflect on your life and instigated a need to want to help.

It is only with practice that we are able to recognise instances and persons we can be grateful for, express our gratitude in suitable ways, and transform gratitude into actions that can benefit us all. So, let’s take a look at a few ways you may practise gratitude in 2021.

Write a letter of gratitude

Write a letter to convey just how grateful you are for someone in your life who has made it incredibly special. Perhaps you may be reminded of someone who helped you out with your university lectures and assignments during the lockdown period. It could also be addressed to a relative or friend you couldn’t visit due to curfew regulations. Often enough, the people we take for granted are living under the same roof as us. So, if you’re wondering where to start, writing to your parents or your partner or your children could be the way to go.

Count your blessings

Allocate a specific time each day to think and reflect on the blessings you have. It is especially helpful if you do this first thing in the morning, or at night when we naturally tend to ponder on our day. The latter will also enable you to sleep with a grateful heart. It helps to write down what you are grateful for – for example, in a gratitude journal – as that will help you cultivate the habit. If you’re not one for journaling, try to hold your hand in front of you and curl a finger towards your palm for each thing you’re grateful for on a given day, in a way to quite literally count your blessings. Before you realise it, you would be reminded of five things you can be grateful for – just like that!

Help the community

Transform your feeling of gratitude to helping out the community you are a part of. If not with money, then with time or effort, there is so much each and every one of us can do to support each other after having gone through a turbulent year. Make it a point to check in with each other in your social circle besides your family. Share little joys you experience with others. Can you think of a better way to bridge the gap caused by physical distancing regulations?

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