Gratitude is an overused word, but putting it into practice is helping me cope with 2020

Photography by Charles Grant
Words By Sophie McGrath

What have you got to lose by practising gratitude?

You might roll your eyes when you hear the word ‘gratitude’, and I totally get it. It’s become a ridiculously overused term, and in light of everything that’s happened this year, it can feel a little redundant to suggest that people feel ‘grateful’. But I find that practising it really does help.

These are trying times. They’re unusual and very icky and that’s why it’s perhaps more important than ever before to focus on implementing a gratitude practice in whatever form possible. Everyone is doing it tough; many are much worse off than others. We’re all a little or a lot stressed and frightened.

We’ve had travel plans and special events wiped out, many are having to take a pay cut, some have been let go and aren’t able to make ends meet, some are dealing with physical and/or mental illness and lots of us are just not coping with 2020’s *unprecedented* events, and that’s fair enough! We need to acknowledge that our lives have been turned upside down and the impacts are immense.

But I think it helps a lot to take heed of the bigger picture right now. I take comfort in knowing that we’re all experiencing some level of fear and doubt. I’m not alone and neither are you. Take it from me. I’m currently sitting at my desk in the comfort of my home with a hot water bottle and blanket draped over my legs and a cup of tea. Cosy to say the least. I’m feeling calm and at ease with Melbourne’s Stage Four restrictions and I owe it to, you guessed it, gratitude. 

Let’s briefly take stock of my year so far. I’m a publicist by trade and I went from having 12 current and upcoming clients and events to four clients in the space of five days back in March. During that tiny window of opportunity between isolation periods one and two, I signed on three new clients, all to have them wiped out or suspended again in the same week. I now have one client (yes, one!).

I’ve just celebrated five years owning my own business and I never imagined my fifth year would see me having only one (long-standing) client (cheers Moon Dog Brewery!). I’m on JobKeeper right now, and I thank the governmental bodies for that. The monthly payment is my security blanket. It pays my rent, the bills, the groceries and any unexpected costs – it stops me from going under altogether and allows me to rest my head at night. 

I can’t and definitely haven’t been making the usual dosh – most of my business is project-based and concentrated in the hospitality, lifestyle and events sphere, so there isn’t much room for me in the current state of play. My work is unessential right now and none of us in this field or related fields expected this could wipe out our entire business model – we are in Melbourne, Australia’s food and events city, after all. 

If 2020 were “normal” I would have been on a three-month trip around the US and Europe right now. Since I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I’ve become much better at putting myself first, but this would have been the first time I had taken an extended period off work in five years. It took me ages to feel okay about taking the time off without feeling guilty.

It was meant to be the trip of a lifetime, incorporating a bit of work, watching two best mates get married in upstate New York and sneaking in my belated honeymoon. I guess travel and time off from work is something I’ll never put off in a post-COVID world. I’ll be taking that same trip as soon as I can and travelling often. Nothing like a stay at home order to make the travel bug inescapable. 

So, yeah – 2020’s been really shit for me, as it has for you. But we all know negative emotions get us nowhere. What we can do with 2020 is to treat it as a loading dock to the future. We can acknowledge where we are at, what we want, what we miss and what we can do now to be better people, all while taking note of all the things that make you smile throughout the day. 

I now find I notice the small things daily; I’m seeing the beauty in the simplicity of life right now and it feels good to be in the slow lane. There’s no need to complicate the gratitude process. For me, I started with The 5 Minute Journal and now I keep a gratitude list in the notes section on my phone. It’s something I can refer to at any time to remind me of the things I love and have. 

My list covers everything from sunrises and sunsets, fresh, clean sheets and the smell of an open fire, to Yarra Bend Park being a stone’s throw away from me and, of course, dogs. Thank god for dogs!

Your list will be different and so it should be. We all have different things that bring us comfort right now. And by no means am I asking you to minimise your suffering whatsoever. We can be grateful for the simpler things – things we love and miss – and still feel sad, afraid, anxious and angry.

There is room for all your conflicting emotions but the practice of gratitude (like meditation) over days, weeks and then months can alleviate the heaviness of our negative thought patterns. Positive emotions help broaden your attention span and can strengthen your immune system and resilience, so you don’t really have anything to lose by incorporating it into your life. Right now, it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Use this extra downtime we’ve been given as a time to recalibrate.

We’re not in our usual hurried lifestyle, and we’re being forced to live life in slow motion and to reflect. And when this all ends – and it will – we will have already realised how very little we need, how very much we actually have and the true value of human connection. I can’t wait to dance all night with my friends, hug my family and take that three-month holiday. 

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