Commentary: Gratitude is a powerful state of mind that can help you get through tough timesA social worker reflects on life in a pandemic

Pandemic. Yes, that was Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2020. No surprises there. However, if you would have asked me last year if I thought Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2021 might still be pandemic, I probably would have thought, you are watching too many sci-fi movies. The heartache, the pain, and the loss of life have been immeasurable. We can’t go back, we can’t rewind the clock, but we can try to move forward. 

After we go through an emotional experience, it’s helpful to take a look back and see what we learned along the way. It’s a question, I would ask my psychotherapy clients after they had experienced a particularly bad break-up. As we all know, uncoupling is hard work and a very painful experience. But after the pain, we can look back, see what we learned. 
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back
and realize they were the big things” - Kurt Vonnegut

During the pandemic, I learned to appreciate those little things in my life, like hugging a family member, shopping in a grocery store without fear, and sharing a meal with a friend. I realized that enjoying that first cup of tea in the morning while petting my dog is pretty darn special. Now, I am more mindful and grateful for all these little moments that I had taken for granted. I was able to spend time with my adult son and his wife. We live about 1,000 miles apart, but because they were able to work from home, they spent two weeks with us. It was one of the highlights of my summer. 

The pandemic also forced us to slow down. Netflix, ZOOM, and banana bread became our lifeline. Life as we knew it, was stopped dead in its tracks. Learning to slow down and take one day at a time taught me that the only real moment I have is the present moment. We cannot change the past, nor can we alter tomorrow. All we have is today. That’s all we are really guaranteed. I try to live in the present moment and not worry about the past or obsess about the future. Simply said, that's hard to do. But, almost always worth the effort it takes. 

For those of us who are afforded the luxury of working from home, our homes became our sanctuaries, our safe-havens. But for many others, that was not the case. We were all glued to our screens, witnessing the daily loss of employment, food, and housing. Industries were wiped out overnight, hospitality, restaurants, travel and entertainment, the list goes on and on. Even Broadway theaters had to shutter their doors. 

I felt an urgent need to give back to help others less fortunate. Research has shown that random acts of kindness positively affect the giver as much as the receiver. It is a win/win situation. The collective giving I witnessed was truly inspiring. The world became a kinder place, after all, we are all in this together. No one is exempt, you could not beg, borrow or steal your way out of being affected by the wrath of COVID-19. It helps me sleep better at night knowing that I've tried to help as many as I can to have a place to call home and food on their tables.

I think we are all overwhelmingly grateful to those who put their lives on the line to help others. Being the parent of a frontline healthcare worker in the biggest hospital system in Florida was very stressful at times. Especially early on, when the medical team had to re-use personal protection equipment, the virus was raging and one of my daughter's colleagues passed away from COVID-19. Yes, it was scary and I think I might have lost some hair, but I am so honored to be the parent of a healthcare hero. In my eyes, they define the true definition of heroism.
Learning to be grateful when you feel your world is falling apart, is not an easy task. However, gratitude is a powerful state of mind. It can help you through those very tough times. It helps you frame your world in a more positive light, even when your world has gone dark. I have learned to incorporate gratitude into my daily life. In my experience, it is truly a more pleasant way to interact in the world.

Laura Farrell West is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, a freelance writer, and a speaker in Tampa, FL. Laura treats adults and adolescents struggling with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. She received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of South Florida and completed her clinical training at MacDill Airforce Base’s Mental Health Clinic. She has lectured about eating disorders to students at the University of Tampa, Argosy University, and USF. Laura’s articles have been published on and Psychcentral. 
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