The City of Toronto will be open again for in-store shopping on Monday March 8, but we are NOT REOPENING. This choice is a hard one for me to make, but the right choice isn’t always the easy choice. I don’t feel that it is safe for our staff, our clients, myself, and all of the thousands of people in our collective lives (connections fan out pretty far). Studies have found that the UK stain of COVID spreads 70% faster, is at least 30% more deadly, it affects women more than men (not great in a knitting store), and it will most likely be responsible for another lockdown in April. Local ICU doctors confirm the science, reopening is short-sighted, and they should know, they’re the ones in the trenches. I really, really, really hope that I’m wrong, and that it is safe to re-open, but all lives have value and they are too precious to take that chance.
I know everyone REALLY wants to get back the little pleasures we all took for granted a year ago, and the people-pleaser part of me is groaning to give it to you. But I can’t, it’s not right. What I can give you is this – I see and talk to a good number of people every day, and this is what I have seen throughout the last year:
- The people who are focussed on what they have, have been consistently happy, and some have become even happier.
- The people who have been focussed on what they do not have, have been unhappy.
- The people who were previously focussed on what they don’t have, but during the pandemic came to appreciate what they do have, have become lighter, happier, less anxious, and less depressed.
Joy and happiness aren’t mysterious commodities that are doled out by the universe to some people and held back from others. They are an active choice that people make every day, they are part of a practice and a skill-set. Lots of us are raised in an environment where we aren’t taught these skills, and we don’t even know they exist. Que sera, nobody has control over the cards they’re dealt in life, but we all have complete signority over the way we play them. You have control over how you choose to view the world, connect with yourself and engage with others. The best part is, the gateway to this skill-set is simple, it’s just practicing gratitude.
Gratitude Lightens the Mood
Practicing gratitude is completely free, it’s a relaxing occupation for your brain during those little bits of down-time (plus you can knit while you do it), and it’s a heck of a lot more productive than staring at your phone. The next time you feel blah/meh/burned-out/cranky/below-baseline/etc., try listing as many things as possible that you are grateful for.
- Every day, list at least 15 things that you are grateful for. At first this will feel like a lot, but quickly you’ll find you can go on and on.
- When you are doing things (walking the dog, doing the laundry) look for the elements in it that you are grateful for. I’m super grateful for washing machines, I’m also grateful for that nice, crisp feeling clean sheets have on their first night.
- Brain Hack: when something good happens, lean into it, savour and memorize it, take a photo or a movie of it in your mind. It’s takes 12 or more seconds for a positive experience to be stored in your memory, while negative ones are almost instantaneous (it’s called a negativity bias).
- You can choose anything to be grateful for; you can be grateful for objects you have (your home), people in your life (your kids), personal attributes (your awesomeness), abstract concepts (unconditional love). Finding things to be grateful for can become a creative exercise.
- One important thing – the things you are grateful for need to be positive things that you have, not things you are grateful you do not have. For example, “I am grateful I live in the first-world” works, but “I am grateful that I do not live in the third-world” doesn’t work. Say the former statements to yourself and see if you notice the difference. Even as I write and re-read them I feel a bit elevated by the former and definitely weighed down by the latter.
- If you don’t see a difference in yourself right away, don’t give up! Gratitude is a practice, a neurological skill which is no different than other skills you’ve learned. When your brain learns something new it starts making new connections, neurons, and every time you practice, a little bit of myelin build’s up on the neuron (this is a very general description). Myelin increases the speed and efficiency with which signals travel down the nerve cells. The neurons responsible for the skills you are good at are covered in a thick myelin sheath, because you’ve practiced a lot. When you start something new you can expect it to be rough around the edges, and as you practice it gets better – it’s how brains work!
My last two points in favour of adopting (or deepening) a gratitutde practice …
- If you’re already hanging out in your head feeling unhappy, what do you have to lose? Nothing. What do you have to gain? EVERYTHING.
- I recently read or heard something (sorry, the author escapes me) very prescient: “What you do for yourself you do for the world, and what you do for the world, you do for yourself”. Everything is connected. On the micro level, your happiness has a direct connection with the people you live, work, and interact with. Not only will your happiness improve theirs, it will improve your relationships, and smooth out the waves in life. In the macro, when you elevate your joy it fans out in all directions, and much like the butterfly effect, you won’t know who or how far it will reach, but it all goes into the collective bucket.