If I can, I’d like to share a quick overview of some of the pandemic’s affects on our family. Know that there have been other periods of time in our life where we have felt like we were drowning and could barely keep our heads above water. There have been other years where I could not wait for them to end. Plenty of times when we have felt lost and alone. I know this year has felt like that for many, some that I know personally and others that I’ve just heard about their stories, and if this is the case for you and your situation, then my heart goes out to you. In many ways, it’s harder to watch others suffer and we wish we could step in to take away the pain.
This list doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of extreme disappointments, bizarre health issues, or great concern over the state of the world. But I can look back over the year 2020 with gratitude and see abundance.
*During the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have felt fortunate that my husband has continued to stay really busy in his employment.
*Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had the opportunity to put into practice using some of our food storage which is something that I’ve always had a passion for.
*Because of COVID, our oldest daughter felt miserable and lost her sense of taste and smell for two weeks while away from home at college, and even though college life is incredibly different because of COVID, she’s learning to spread her wings and discover that she can do hard things.
*Because of COVID, our 15-year old son re-evaluated his priorities and made a really tough decision to turn in his soccer cleats for multiple other activities that he is really enjoying pursuing.
*Because of COVID, our 13-year old son has taken on new challenges and is teaching himself some new skills.
*Because of COVID, our 8-year old son was able to be baptized outdoors in a cold creek on a perfectly magical fall day that could never be replicated.
*Because of COVID, our family has slowed down, altered some of our perceptions, realigned some of our priorities, spent more time in the scriptures, and created stronger family bonds.
A week ago Friday, in the 11th month of the year, at 11:00 am, the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson shared an 11-minute message with the world. On the surface, it may not have appeared to be a plea to us in the eleventh hour, which is a phrase we typically state as meaning right before it’s too late. But what if it was a message along those lines? What if his message is one of the most important things we could hear and implement in our lives before our Savior returns to the earth?
This man, whom Latter-day Saints sustain as our prophet, seer, and revelator, a brilliant man who is a renowned physician offered us healing in a troubled time, said that there is a remedy — “one that may seem surprising — because it flies in the face of our natural intuitions. Nevertheless, its effects have been validated by scientists as well as men and women of faith. I am referring to the healing power of gratitude.”
“Over my nine and a half decades of life, I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.”
President Nelson then encouraged us to participate in two activities for at least seven days: He asked us to turn social media into our own personal gratitude journal and to unite in thanking God through daily prayer.
President Nelson asked us to notice if we felt happier and more at peace at the end of the seven days. I truly felt the flood of gratitude that Pres. Nelson mentioned in his message. I loved getting a better glimpse inside so many people’s lives and enjoyed the creative responses to things to be grateful for that I often take for granted.
I also loved the honest posts about heartache.
For example, a family relative that has struggled with infertility for over 14 years shared the following:
I was so happy for the call to use social media as a gratitude journal from our Prophet and loved the positivity that it brought a few days. But then came something I didn’t expect- those negative feelings that can accompany this platform: inadequacy, envy and sadness. Seeing people post their gratitude for things that I didn’t have made for a melancholy scroll. And so I didn’t post, because to think of what I was thankful for was too hard and wouldn’t be good enough anyway.
Then I saw a post highlighted by the church, from a woman who had the same feelings I did. In it she shared the advice her mother gave her when she spoke of the discomfort and disappointment she felt. She said “[my mother] lovingly held my pain and then gently reminded me that the #givethanks challenge was not just for celebrating the perfect things in our lives. It’s about looking for the good in what we have.
This sweet cousin to my husband then posted daily about her gratitude for hope and promises of children of her own either in this life or the next,, and the peace that brings her heart.
In Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 we read, “Thou shalt thank the Lord they God in all things.” A few verses later in the same section it says, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments”.
Things were not going well when the Lord gave this “thanksgiving” commandment to the early Saints. The Kirtland Safety Society had failed; most of the Saints were in extreme poverty. Many key leaders had left the Church and were adding fuel to the fires of persecution. The Kirtland Saints experienced such severe persecution they had to leave comfortable homes and travel to Missouri in miserably cold and difficult conditions–and in Missouri they were anything but welcome. Nothing seemed to be going right for the Saints—yet it was at this time the Lord commanded them to “thank the Lord thy God in all things”.
Similarly, the Book of Mormon people were “suffering all manner of afflictions” when the Lord commanded them to “give thanks in all things” which we read in Mosiah 26:38-39.
We too are in a time of tribulation. It’s a huge challenge to live this higher law as our adversity continues to escalate. When everything is going well, gratitude is easy, but what about when it seems that all hope is lost?
President Nelson said in his message: “Does gratitude spare us from sorrow, sadness, grief and pain? No, but it does soothe our feelings. It provides us with a greater perspective on the very purpose and joy of life.”
Russell M. Nelson is an incredible man of faith, as well as a man of science. His prescription for us to turn our hearts to gratitude is backed by many research studies. I am fascinated by our brains and their capacities and loved learning a little about the psychological effects behind the principle of gratitude. Let me share some things that you might already know or might enjoy learning:
Research is overwhelming that gratitude makes people happier. Some people are more thankful than others, whether by nature or habit, and research has shown that those people in general are happier, more hopeful, and less materialistic than their peers who are less grateful.
But gratitude is also something you can learn. In one study on the subject of gratitude, subjects were randomly divided into two groups. One group would keep a journal every day describing three problems they had faced that day, and the other would describe three things they were grateful for. At the end of two weeks the gratitude group was significantly happier than the problems group.
Another study had people write a specific, heartfelt letter of gratitude to someone who had helped them. People who wrote these letters were happier, a week later, than a group that had written about their deepest feelings. More important, the gratitude writers were still happier three months later, and by a larger margin.
It seems to be that when we focus on what we are thankful for, we not only feel better in the moment but also train our brains to notice more things to be thankful for.
Gratitude has overwhelmingly been shown to improve people’s relationships. Researchers have found that feeling and/or expressing gratitude helps keep relationship bonds strong in romantic and marriage relationships. This is true even when the marriage faces severe stressors.
It provides a safe foundation to a friendship.
Feeling gratitude makes us feel more like doing things to help others. Researchers call this “prosocial” behavior and it covers everything from doing favors to offering praise and appreciation, to cooperating on tasks at work.
Thankfulness is contagious; we often respond with prosocial actions just from seeing someone else feel gratitude.
Gratitude can also protect us from the consequences of trials and traumatic experiences. Adolescents who are more grateful are also significantly less likely to ideate about suicide, even when they experience bullying. And research has repeatedly shown that feeling gratitude, protects people from developing depression even when they are chronically ill.
Feelings of thankfulness also protect against PTSD and other trauma symptoms for war veterans and victims of school shootings, terrorism, and natural disasters. And in areas where people are prone to physical and emotional stress, feelings of thankfulness help protect against burnout. This is especially important in health care professions, where burnout is high but need is great; a little bit of gratitude goes a long way toward keeping health care providers happy and engaged.
The thing about agency is, we don’t have to be grateful for anything. We can always tell ourselves that whatever kindness was done was owed to us; that whatever good things we enjoy, we deserve more of them; that whatever we may have gained from our struggles wasn’t worth it. We can always turn our focus away from what we do have toward the fact that others have more of it. We can choose ingratitude.
But, anyone can choose gratitude over entitlement.
If we decide to choose gratitude, in obedience to the commandments of God, we will immediately—and increasingly—feel the benefits in our lives. Just like all the commandments of God, thankfulness provides more to us than to its recipient.
The holiday season is ending, but I am committed to make gratitude a bigger part of my daily life.