Life during the pandemic is hard. Even the easiest of things are not so easy anymore. And some people are facing major, even catastrophic, life changes. We don’t have to look far to find someone who has experienced the death of a loved one, the loss of livelihood, or other major setbacks during the pandemic.
Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because my life has changed so much. But then I walk into my classroom of socially distanced, masked, young scholars, and all self-pity is washed away. My students inspire me, and I feel grateful for them. Think of all they are dealing with to be at Gardner-Webb pursuing their education: constant mask wearing, extended periods away from home, juggling different types of classes (seated, hybrid, online), delays or alterations in being able to compete in their sport or perform in the arts, as well as being quarantined. Sometimes we reflect in class on how college students are making history and how they will always remember going to college during a pandemic. It is something they will tell their children and grandchildren about. Our students are resilient, and they are our future!
When I feel grateful for these students, my perspective changes. No longer do I feel sorry for myself. I am inspired by them, and they make me want to become a better teacher and person. This is how gratitude can change each of us: It can help us to look at something in a new way, through a different lens, that can transform us. I once had a student who called gratitude a “super power.” She was right. Gratitude has now been extensively studied by psychologists and found to make a big difference in our well-being. But long before psychology was a “thing,” the Apostle Paul spoke of the power of gratitude. To be grateful is to be thankful, and Paul often emphasized it: “And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light” (Col. 1: 12).
As we approach the holiday season in the midst of the pandemic, let us try to remember to keep our sights on gratitude. Some things will be hard this year: We may be grieving the death of one or more loved ones, we may not get to be with our families as we would like, and we may have to deal with other unwanted changes. But even in the worst of times it is still possible to be grateful. And gratitude can make a positive difference.
One way of focusing on gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down three things that you were grateful for that day. This simple method has received considerable research attention and has been found to make a difference. You might also express gratitude to others. Let people know you appreciate them. Maybe you could write a gratitude letter to someone who means a lot to you. Expressing gratitude helps us to become more other-centered and benefits both the giver and receiver of gratitude.
I hope you will also remember to express gratitude for the greatest gift of all—when God sent his only son, Jesus, to live among us and to teach us how to live and how to love.
Dr. James Morgan P. Morgan Jr. is professor of psychology and counseling in the Gardner-Webb University School of Psychology and Counseling. His research interests are in Positive Psychology, Psychology of Religion and Grief and Bereavement.