Many homes are experiencing levels of stress that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago.
Job losses, reduced hours, educational uncertainty, family health, unrelenting social media strife, delayed government benefits, riots and protests, places of worship closed, shifting local mandates, and isolation from key family members can take a toll on our lives. It is a challenging time for adults and downright destabilizing for children.
The Harvard Center for the Developing Child says, “Think of resilience as a seesaw or balance scale, where negative experiences tip the scale toward bad outcomes, and positive experiences tip it toward good outcomes.”
This Harvard study offers both hope and challenge.
The issues bombarding us can lead to a sense of fear, despair and hopelessness. It can drive us to emotional and physical isolation which can erode our resilience faster than we can restore it. The 24-hour news cycle has become a one-sided diet of doom and disaster.
We must feed our minds with the food that grows resilience — those two ingredients are appreciation and gratitude. Psychologist Jordan Peterson encourages us to “be grateful in spite of our sufferings.”
When challenges and anxieties pile up on the negative side of our emotional fulcrum the balance is tipped towards depression and anxiety. Gratitude and appreciation are the antidotes to an eroding emotional well-being.
I am not talking about “pie in the sky” self-talk or a “whistle a happy tune” Disney approach to our current social climate. I am suggesting gratitude in spite of our suffering, not as a diversion or an escape from reality. It is important to feel and process our negative emotions but it is harmful to wallow in them or to orient our life towards them.
In the current social context, gratitude and appreciation must be intentionally cultivated and reality based.
Some psychologists have suggested that a 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts are necessary for emotional well-being. This kind of positivity and joyful support in parents also has a calming effect in the household. We need to remember that a child’s development doesn’t pause during a crisis.
Making space for gratitude keeps us focused on what feeds our soul. It can also shape our day by reminding us who and what matters most in our lives.
Beginning and ending our day this way can also recalibrate our anxieties and focus our energy on the difficulties at hand.
Jordan Peterson suggests that we should proactively “respond to a challenge rather than [passively] bracing for a catastrophe.” This kind of purposeful lifestyle takes clarity, energy, and a gathering of emotional resources to be effective.
Appreciation and gratitude will bolster our emotional resilience and gives us the strength we need to spend our resources in the demanding areas of social justice, personal wellness and community well-being.