Being Grateful in an Upside-Down World

Who Pulled the Rug Out?

As 2020 dawned, none of us could have predicted how quickly our world would be turned upside down. Just a few weeks ago people were heading off to work, sending their children to school, planning special events, catching up with family and friends, taking trips and generally going
about their usual routines. 

Then COVID-19 loomed out of the horizon like a grisly spectre from some B-Grade horror movie. In a matter of weeks, thousands of people had died, businesses had closed, unemployment queues were stretching around city blocks, and more and more restrictions were being announced daily in an attempt to stop the pandemic.

At times like this, it’s easy to focus on the negatives, and that’s completely understandable. If you’ve just lost your job and you’re wondering how to feed your family and meet your mortgage payments, expressing gratitude is the last thing on your mind. But did you know that gratitude can
actually help you through difficult circumstances?

Gratitude is Good for You

Researchers have found that gratitude can enhance our personal relationships and prompt us to engage in more prosocial acts like helping our neighbours. Being grateful can also have flow-on effects for general health and well-being, such as better sleep. Some of these benefits may not kick in until further down the track, but if we learn to practise gratitude in the midst of our trials, it will help us develop the resilience we’ll need in the months ahead.

Photo by Tumisu on Pixabay

It’s important to remember that feeling grateful and being grateful are two different things. As psychologist Robert Emmons explains, ‘we don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy … But being grateful is a choice …’.

Does this mean we ignore our emotions? No! Sweeping aside our feelings of anger, sadness and fear won’t achieve anything. In fact, denial can be counterproductive. We need to acknowledge what we’re feeling so that we can process it and turn it into something constructive. For more information on the importance of authenticity, please see my blog post Writing Brave (Even if Your Knees are Knocking) which appeared on the Christian Writers Downunder site.

In spite of the difficulties we face, however, we can make a conscious choice to remember the blessings that are still evident in our lives.

Expressing Gratitude

There are lots of different ways you can express gratitude.

Photo by June Laves on Pixabay

Thank others who have done something special for you or your community. One of my neighbours put a sign on her front fence thanking doctors, nurses and health workers for all they’re doing in the current COVID-19 crisis. Maybe you could send a card or email to a particular person you’d like to thank. And remember there’s no statute of limitations on giving thanks. When I was in my mid-30s, I visited one of my primary school teachers to thank her for the positive influence she’d been in my life. It’s never too late.

Keep a gratitude journal in which you jot down at least one thing you’re grateful for each day, or use one of the gratitude apps on your phone or tablet. You can find Jennifer Lance’s review of eight popular apps here.

Pray and give thanks to God for the ways he has blessed you. If you need a place to start, the Psalms are full of people in difficult circumstances who persisted in thanksgiving.

Try a reframing activity to help get things in perspective. I’m using one at the moment that I call the ‘I can’t, but I can’ exercise. For example:

  • I can’t visit my elderly parents because their aged care home is in lockdown. But I can talk to them by phone and I know they’re being looked after.
  • I can’t find everything I would usually buy at the supermarket, but there are still a lot of things I can buy and I can always substitute a different product. 
  • I can’t attend church in person, but I can watch the live stream of the service each Sunday from the comfort of my home.


A lot of things are out of our control at the moment, but we can still make some positive choices that will enhance our own well-being and those around us. Recovery will not occur overnight, but we can start making little steps that will have an impact in the future.

Would you like to share some of your ‘I can’t, but I can’ affirmations in the comments below? I’d love to hear your suggestions.  

Sources and Further Reading

6 Responses

  1. Well said Nola! I love the idea of “I can’t but I can”. I can’t go to the pool🏊‍♀️😢 but I can walk 🚶🏽‍♀️😀. We still have much to be grateful for. Thanks for the encouragement.

    1. Thanks Janelle. I was thinking of you the other day and wondering how you’re going without all those pool sessions. I know how much you loved it. I’m still riding my bike, so that gets me out in the countryside. On the news the other night, they had an Olympic swimmer who’s using his dam to train. Maybe you can do something on your property. In the meantime, it’s good for all of us to remember that we do have many blessings in spite of everything that’s happening around us. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Beautifully written Nola. I can’t physically hug people at the moment, but I can still “air hug”.

  3. Good call, Nola. The online church thing has been a blessing in disguise. The church I am associated with (and I have heard it about others) have been experiencing up to 10 times as many views as there were attendees on a Sunday morning before all this mayhem happened. Maybe this is a case of what the enemy meant for evil, God is using for good.

    1. Thanks for that Marc. I think you might be right. Our church has had more people tuning in on a Sunday. I think a lot of people are looking for comfort and hope in these times and we have a great opportunity to help those who are seeking. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *