Gratitude & Learning to Pivot in Times of Crisis
This past Friday, I unexpectedly made a 9-hour round trip to pick-up my son, Jonah, from college at the University of Illinois. The original plan was for him to take the train and rendezvous with my parents in Chicago overnight, before taking a connecting train home to South Bend. However, my parents are in a high-risk group should they be exposed to COVID-19.Over the protests of my dad who (a) didn’t want to acknowledge the risks and (b) was mourning the fact that he wouldn’t be able to see Jonah, along with similar protests from my son (although his were based on my inferior ability to effectively assess the risk involved in the two options), I made the decision to pivot from our original plan and make the round trip drive. This outcome represented a loss for grandfather and grandson who have a special bond and were looking forward to seeing each other.
There are obviously innumerable losses that people are experiencing right now, many small like this one, others significant. When taken in aggregate, these losses can easily make the current situation feel overwhelming. Yet, individually and collectively, we can choose how we respond.
One practice I have found enormously beneficial in recent years, is an active practice of gratitude. Research has linked gratitude to greater mental and physical health as well as an increased capacity for empathy. While there are a multitude of ways to practice gratitude, they ultimately all boil down to being mindful of our circumstances and the many things for which we can be grateful. The challenge is making the time to look for and reflect upon them when buried in the problems of the day.
Fortunately, the more we practice being grateful and expressing gratitude, the more it creates a virtuous cycle for us and those around us.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
– William Arthur Ward.
In times of crisis, it can understandably feel counterintuitive to embrace gratitude; but, focusing on gratitude does not imply that we can’t or shouldn’t still also feel emotions of sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. Our emotions aren’t binary. We may, for instance, simultaneously feel grief over a loss, anger over a poor public policy decision, and guilt when others’ circumstances are worse than our own. However, we can positively impact our own reality by focusing our thoughts and energies on items for which we can be grateful.
Going back to my original example, I can acknowledge my dad and Jonah lost the opportunity to spend time together and I lost the 9 hours of productive time I sorely needed to catch up on work. I could choose to bemoan these losses. Alternatively, I can choose to be grateful for the 4.5 hours of quality time with my son.
Similarly, in the broader context of the current crisis, while still feeling sadness and deep concern for the current circumstances of our world and in our communities, I can simultaneously reflect with gratitude upon the actions we are taking as part of a larger collective effort for the greater good – that of mitigating risk to the most vulnerable in our communities.
If I allow myself to get mired in hours of depressing news or social media (which I made the mistake of doing post 9-11), I find myself depressed and anxious, unable to be of value to anyone. If, on the other hand, I embrace constructive ways of working through the complex emotions and circumstances of these unprecedented challenges, it can transform my own outlook and help me show up well for my loved ones and my community.
So, in the spirit of embracing and expressing gratitude today, let me share my gratitude for each of you along with a tangible offer to be of assistance where I can add value for those seeking to pivot their approach. This offer is both for people in my circle, as well as people whom I have yet to meet, who are doing good work and fighting the good fight in this broken world of ours.
Let me help you – then pay it forward!
I will make myself available to provide help via email and/or carve out time for a call where appropriate to connect in person.
All I ask is that if/when your circumstances permit, you keep your eyes open and look for a way to pay forward an act of kindness in your own unique way.
COVID-19, fear, and anxiety should not be given the last word. It’s times like these that is more important than ever for us to band together and be a positive force for good in our local and global communities.
Patrick Farran, Ph.D.
Co-founder and CEO • Ad Lucem Group
Farran’s 25+ years as a senior organizational leader and consultant, with specialties in change management, systems/process improvement, culture transformation, and employee engagement, spans multiple industries (professional services, government, healthcare, education, non-profits, manufacturing, financial services, insurance, high-tech, and energy), start-ups and non-profits to mergers and acquisitions, global organizations, and Fortune 100’s.