Why is Gratitude Harder During the Pandemic?

Updated: Nov 28, 2020


Covid 2020 has been a wild ride hasn’t it? I mean, none of us could have predicted this. Now the holidays are here, and the confirmed-positive test numbers are still peaking. We have had all time highs (at least in my state). My soon to be sister-in-law tested positive, so news of numbers hits a little closer to home than they did before (like they needed to be any scarier). Both my partner and I have out of state families that require travel to see.


Even if it was safe, traveling isn’t really not the right thing to do amidst a pandemic, in my opinion, so we made the hard decision to spend the holidays at home, isolated. Maybe you’re experiencing Holiday Despair for some other reason. Whatever the reason, what can we do about it?


Being National Gratitude Month (makes sense with Thanksgiving), I think there are more than a few people out there wondering how to be grateful when everything is going wrong? How can you make Thanksgiving count when you can’t even be near people? How can you sit around the table and talk about the things you’re grateful for when so many people are missing from the table?


You know me, I have to get into the nitty gritty before I can answer your super hard questions!


Fun Fact:

Gratitude is not simply a cultural construct. It’s a part of our evolutionary history, our DNA, our brains, and therefore our development as people. Gratitude is present in all cultures and is integral to most world religions. Robert Trivers, who introduced the theory of reciprocal altruism in 1971, suggests that gratitude is the emotion that regulates our response to altruistic acts by others and motivates our gratitude response. We aren’t the only ones, either. A diverse number of species practice reciprocal altruism including fish, birds, rodents, primates, and cetaceans.


Does Gratitude even make a difference?

Gratitude is considered a Prosocial Effect. Meaning it’s a response to a behavior, which turns around and motivates another behavior. Say you’re having a super shitty day, and forget something. A person that is affected by you forgetting reminds you gently. You’re grateful they understood, you then, in turn, work even harder than you normally would to make sure you don’t forget anything that will affect that person again.


Turn the table around. Flip the script. Say you’re having a super shitty day, and forget something. A person affected by you forgetting reminds you like a total dick. They make a snide, condescending remark that leaves you feeling less than. In turn, you slack off, because it doesn’t matter how hard you work, they won’t thank you anyways. See how far a “Thank you” would go?


I got lost in the world of studies about gratitude. There was a lot of good information to be found! Most studies that I read emphasized how it helped reduce antisocial behavior because it protects from stress, promotes physical and mental health, improves relationships, and encourages resilience. It was one of the major positive motivations for self-improvement. Most importantly, being grateful helped people find meaning in their lives and assisted in developing self-worth. It affected every aspect of life.


One study showed prefrontal cortex activation when letters of gratitude were read aloud to one another by their coworkers. That’s the part of the brain that is key to reasoning, impulse-control, comprehension, problem solving, creativity and perseverance. So basically, they became super employees. The participants noted a noticeable decrease in shitty moods after the experiment too! Imagine what that thank you note you’ve been pushing off for 6 months could do?


Kids are more likely to see how their parents sacrifice for them if they’re raised by grateful parents. Apples don’t fall far from the tree right? Sometimes that saying can be so wrong. So, if you’ve been feeling like your kids take advantage of you, you could try showing them more ways you’re grateful for them while also setting healthy boundaries of course.


Appreciation expressed towards kids at a young age decreased suicidal ideation and likelihood of childhood suicide or progressed adulthood suicide. Gratefulness could have a direct impact on the suicidal thoughts of people around you.

In relationships, couples who have regular gratification practices are less likely to see divorce as a viable option, and women were more likely to work on resolution even if communication was lacking if the “Thank Yous” were plentiful and meaningful.


As gratitude researcher Michael McCullough has explained, the positive feeling of gratitude can alert us to the benefits we’ve received from others and inspire us to show appreciation, which will in turn make others more likely to help us again in the future. In this way, gratitude helps build social bonds and friendships.


Basically, gratitude is the superfood of the mental health world. Don’t ditch your chai and avocado, but think about taking care of your mental health the same way (or better if you’re like me and superfoods make it into a bi-monthly smoothie and that’s it). When you’re grateful, you’re communicating that the recipient is cared about and loved.


Did you know: there are three types of gratitude?:

  1. Gratitude as an “affective trait” (one’s overall tendency to have a grateful disposition),

  2. A mood (daily fluctuations in overall gratitude), and

  3. An emotion (a more temporary feeling of gratitude that one may feel after receiving a gift or a favor from someone).


The emotion is immediate, the mood comes when you recognize the emotion, and the mood turns into the disposition when the mood persists over time. It’s a wonderful merry go round to be on... once you can find the balls to jump on. Which sounds all fine and dandy, but how?? We can’t get people to do nice things for us (would it mean the same anyways?), so logically, it makes sense to be grateful for the things already in your life.


Commiserate with people who have it worse

Coping skills can go past mindfulness, grounding techniques, and exercise. It would be a dick move to go out and use people to make yourself feel better, but that’s what TV is for! Watch shows that show you there’s people out there that have it worse than you.


Some personal favorites:

Watch shows about people who have it worse.

  • Hoarders

  • Fosters

  • Intervention

  • My 600lb life

Whiner detox

You’ve heard of bowel detoxes, you’ve heard of tech detoxes, but have you heard of the Whiner Detox? It’s ok. Don’t worry, I just made it up.

Any time you catch yourself whining, take note of it. Sometimes it helps to write it down (even if just in your notes on your phone). Write down that Whitney moment, but also a contradiction. This is called Thought Challenging.


The more you challenge these thoughts, the less they will take hold, and the more room you’ll have for appreciation.


Go back to the basics; please and thank you

Remember the last time you held a door open for someone and they didn’t say thank you? I don’t know about you, but I wanted to pull them back by one arm and shut the door in their fat ungrateful face! Now think about the power your well placed “Thank you’s” can have.


Cup of coffee moments

These actually have an official name, they’re called Hygge moments. The philosophy, is that if you give it a name, you pay attention to it. My best friend at the time helped me realize I was in an unfruitful relationship (not this one obviously), by asking “Do you stare at her and become mesmerized by little moments like just drinking a cup of coffee?”


I realized I didn’t get mesmerized by those moments, and that girl wasn’t for me. I’ve used it as a measuring tool in my relationships ever since. Paying attention to these moments has really helped me see the beauty in my life, and be grateful for small moments.



Write it down

Make a rule that you can’t use the same thing twice. This will force you to be creative and specific. This is also really great for depressed days when you’re convinced you have nothing to live for. How convenient; you have a ready made list of positive things in your life to shock you out of that mind fuck loop, too. Studies show gratitude was found to have a significant moderating effect on suicidal ideation. Which is just a fancy way of saying if you can prove to yourself you have things in your life to be grateful for, it will help decrease thoughts of suicide. It could even have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.



Thankful Jar

It’s something I’ve seen said, after doing all this research, it’s something I’m willing to give a try. I want to say we will be consistent, but I make no promises. I have every intent to start writing down the wins/gratitudes of the week as a family and reading them all on thanksgiving annually. It sounds like a really nice tradition that would make some great memories. Check back with you in a year!



What are some ways you show gratitude? I would love to know more!




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Sources:

  1. Social Behavior & Personality: an international journal. Apr2020, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p1-10. 10p.

  2. Research in Human Development. Jul-Dec2018, Vol. 15 Issue 3/4, p224-237. 14p.

  3. Journal of Child & Family Studies. May2018, Vol. 27 Issue 5, p1394-1401. 8p. 1 Diagram, 2 Charts.

  4. Journal of Child & Family Studies. Jun2017, Vol. 26 Issue 6, p1671-1680. 10p. 4 Charts, 3 Graphs.

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