We have been through a lot recently. On Sunday (July 18), one of our canteen stallholders tested positive for the virus and HBL was implemented overnight at short notice. On Monday, whilst most of us were cooped up in our homes for HBL, news of a tragic incident involving the death of a Sec 1 student allegedly caused by a senior in his school gripped the nation. On Tuesday, even as our Muslim friends celebrated Hari Raya Haji, the government announced the reinstatement of Phase 2 Heightened Alert. To top off the roller coaster week, HBL was implemented for another day on Wednesday.
What if I told you that despite all of these disruptions and stressful moments, we could still learn to be grateful and positive? For example, we could be grateful for the people around us. Be it our friends and their funny memes that keep our sanity, or the support given by our teachers and families, or even the companionship of our pets, there are a whole lot of people we can show our appreciation to, even in these troubled times. We could also be grateful for even the simple pleasures of life, such as our morning cup of coffee or how fortunate we are to be in possession of our digital devices that we use to access the web. They should deserve our gratitude too. After all, in many parts of the world, even drinking water can considered a luxury, let alone the coffee or smartphones we take for granted. In fact, many things that we take for granted are considered out-of-reach luxuries to many less fortunate people both in Singapore and abroad. Recognising that even in these troubled and unprecedented times, that we are so fortunate there are still so many things to be grateful for is something we must take comfort in.
But why do we have to be grateful in the first place?
The link to mental health
Firstly, gratitude helps to improve mental health. It has been found to decrease stress levels, which have been especially elevated amidst all the disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. A 2004 study conducted by McCraty and colleagues found that participants who felt grateful showed a marked reduction in the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Conversely, people who were ungrateful were more likely to have poorer mental well-being. A study conducted on individuals who were seeking mental health guidance found that people who were told to keep a journal on their negative experiences felt more anxious and depressed, compared to the group of people who wrote gratitude letters. Therefore, even though a healthy dose of complaining ensures our feelings are not bottled up, we should not go overboard, considering how it could be counter-productive.
Building up resilience
Secondly, gratitude can build up our mental strength and help us in recovering from trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recognising that we have much to be thankful for – even during the worst times of our lives – builds up our resilience. Similarly, the study conducted by McCarthy cited previously has also shown that thankful people are more resilient to mental setbacks and negative experiences.
As Epictetus once said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Let us, in these troubled times, when all hope seems lost, when the light at the end of the tunnel seems like a false dawn, pause to give thanks to what we already possess. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or constantly complaining, let us show our appreciation to the people and things that have kept us going. I am sure all of us have so much to be thankful for.
For more information about practising gratitude, refer to this Facebook post by the National Youth Council. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10165540247300607&id=499886730606