Using gratitude to combat the 2020 attitude

  • Published
  • By Chaplain, Major Michael Carollo
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

This time last year we did not know.  We gathered with friends and family for a feast in the name of thankfulness without awareness of what 2020 would have in store. What did 2020 usher? For starters, hardship, isolation and the beloved face mask! Who would have guessed we would have toilet paper shortages, restricted travel, and two-meter distancing?

For most, 2020 meant canceling vacations and temporarily separating from friends; for others, 2020 brought grief over loved ones’ sicknesses or even death from COVID-19. But 2020 gave us more than loss, fear and anxiety. We were given a rare opportunity. We were forced to whittle away excess, to sit in isolation, and to focus on that which remained.

So, how did we respond to the pruning? It’s easy to feel bitter, angry, or somewhat robbed.

It does not have to be this way. Let’s explore how we can intentionally combat our negative attitudes and avoid becoming toxic “Debbie Downers”.

According to a recent publication from Harvard Medical School, giving thanks may be one of the simplest remedies to a sour attitude. Psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough conducted a 10-week study on the power of gratitude.

The researchers had one group of participants journal what they were grateful for each week. A second group documented daily irritations or what displeased them. Lastly, a third group noted events that affected them without highlighting negative or positive feelings. After 10 weeks, the researchers found those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, exercised more, and had fewer visits to physicians.

Another study by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman tested the impact of several positive physiological interventions on 411 people. Every week they were exposed to a new intervention, but by far the most impactful activity was writing and personally delivering a letter of gratitude to someone he or she had never properly thanked for an act of kindness. The participants immediately exhibited substantial increases in happiness and the benefits of this activity lasted for a month.

 So what do we do now that we have this information?

Obviously showing gratitude is good for us and can improve our outlook on the bleakest of situations. We would be wise to make giving thanks a regular ritual.

Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite celebrations of the year and not just because of the turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and assortment of desserts. It calls us back to the spiritual discipline of giving thanks. Our soul should be filled with gratitude at all times, not just when we are enjoying the best meal of the year.

Every day we ought to express our gratitude for the multitude of blessings in our lives. Charles Dickens, who penned A Christmas Carol, encouraged us to, “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

But how can we practice gratitude on a daily basis? Allow me to share a simple yet refreshing solution.

Most of us enjoy a steaming cup of coffee in the morning (or tea for my British friends). We brew or steep this liquid gold, take the first sip, and a wave of gratitude instantly swells.  What if we tacked on an effortless ritual to our morning beverage routine?

While enjoying your morning pick-me-up, I encourage you to intentionally name one additional thing for which you’re thankful: the companionship of a loved one, steady income, a package notification email, last night’s Call of Duty win, or whatever comes to mind.

Perhaps sowing gratitude, even this minor tweak to your morning routine, will harvest a steady attitude of giving thanks.