Point of View: The season of giving thanks

Reflect on gratitude in stressful times

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” These words from American writer Robert Brault are a gentle reminder on keeping perspective during these challenging times. As we all enter into our eighth month of this pandemic, a grateful heart and appreciation of the smallest things can make a world of difference.

I have found that intentional reframing and a focus on gratitude for the little things can change my perspective and the energy around any given situation. For example, when my child protests the day’s math activity, I can focus on the overwhelming challenge of filling this new role of “teacher” for my children, or I can focus on how much I am learning about them, their learning styles, and interests as a result of this new role. I can obsess about the stress of adding schoolwork as a daily “to-do” where all things are now occurring under one roof, or I can focus on the joy of slow mornings and not having to rush everyone out the door and into the cold before the sun has arrived to announce a new day.

This intentional reframing is one of the ways I strive to enjoy the little things and make gratitude a more regular part of my way of being. Other strategies for cultivating an appreciation for the small things include writing thank-you notes, thanking others verbally or mentally, counting blessings, praying, meditating and keeping a gratitude journal.

Of all of these ways, I’ve found keeping a gratitude journal to be the most effective. Regularly pausing to reflect on what I am grateful for has a powerful impact on my emotional well being. While acknowledging what I am grateful for is powerful any time of day, making space in the early hours alongside a hot cup of coffee and before others have awoken is my favorite. Some days, when things seem extra bleak, that hot cup of coffee may be the only thing I can find gratitude for, but there is always something, and even the smallest things are worth naming. On days when the morning is rushed and I jump right into my “to-dos” before taking a moment to pause and reflect, journaling at a later time will still suffice. It is the regular act that has the impact.

It never fails that when I’m having a crummy day (or series of days), I come to realize I haven’t picked up and paused to reflect with my gratitude journal for some time. Fortunately, I can pick it up and start again, any time of any day. The effect is almost immediate. I pick it back up and I feel better.

There is an existing body of research that supports an association between gratitude and a sense of well being. An article from Harvard Medical School states that in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

As the holidays near, they will likely look different than they have in past years. Rather than focusing on what has been lost and is different, I encourage you to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Find a practice that works for you. While this is important for all of us, it is especially important for those of us with young children. Through our words and our actions we are teaching the next generation how to navigate tough times. It is my hope that when my children look back at this period of their life, when their world was upended overnight, they will recall the ways we came together and focused on the little things. They will remember the benefits of slowing down and being more present, like morning snuggles and family game nights.

Hannah Gustafson is the coordinator for MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) of the Southern Kenai Peninsula. MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) is a local health improvement coalition with the vision of a proactive, resilient and innovative community.