How to Practice Gratitude in Difficult Times (AKA Being Happy in the Midst of the Apocalypse)

The world is a bleak place these days. In addition to incessantly negative news reports, people across the world are locked at home under forced quarantine, unable to socialize or go about normal daily activities.

(Populations across the western world, that is. I live in Japan, where the government cannot legally force people to stay inside, and as such have been enjoying nice walks in the park under the blooming sakura. So I’m doing fine. But if you live in Europe or the United States, man your life sucks right now.)

In times like these, positivity is most critical to maintaining a healthy mind, body, and society. Additionally, it may even save cats across the western world from having to endure further ridiculous costumes at the hands of their bored humans.

Studies show that one of the greatest predictors of happiness and a positive mindset is the practice of gratitude. That is to say, practicing gratitude for what one already has can make a person feel happier and more positive. That is not to say that telling oneself how grateful one is for his or her beautiful home whilst actually wishing that said home were three times larger and accompanied by a three-car garage will have the same effect. We live in a world in which we are constantly encouraged, even pushed, to want more than we already have.

(You know that toaster you have that you thought was oh-so-fancy? Well, I’m sorry to say it only has 8 different settings plus a broil option, whereas Neighbor Sarah’s boasts 12.5 different settings, a broil option, and a broil-even-more option. That’s 4.5 settings and an option more in which she can burn her Eggo waffles that you can’t. Welcome to obsolescence.)

The modern world is a world of excess. Worse, it is a world of fear. This is the great marketing ploy by which companies and administrations alike convince consumers to buy a product — or a story. Modern studies of consumer psychology often reference concepts such as “FOBO” — fear of better options. And “FOMO” — fear of missing out. Neither of which are to be confused with “HOMO,” a prefix of scientific nomenclature.

(In other words, it wasn’t a lack of toilet paper that caused toilet paper aisles to be emptied when all of this madness started. It was the fear of a lack of toilet paper, which made you and all your friends run to the supermarkets and buy 80 rolls of toilet paper for no good reason, by which you turned a purely hypothetical possibility into an actual problem for the rest of the world. You assholes.)

With recent global coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, fear is no longer just an undercurrent within daily media, it has become the forefront of news media around the world. Daily news reports propagate not just fear of COVID 19, but fear of going outside, fear of going to work, even fear of seeing other people, let alone interacting with them.

(Basically, the news surrounding the COVID 19 outbreak is turning the entire human race into a population of hermits with clinical social anxiety. Fortunately for Japan, that doesn’t actually change anything, hence everyone’s daily lives continuing as usual.)

Now, more than ever it seems, it is difficult to find things for which to be grateful. We face incessant messages of negativity and fear — messages suggesting that, indeed, there is nothing worthy of our gratitude. A practice of gratitude, then, will require diligence and dedication.

(Just like eating healthy or exercising or not smoking all of your roommates’ weed. So get up off your lazy butt, put the stress-cookies down, and put back your roomie’s stash. It’s time for some gratitude jumping-jacks, bitches.)

Fortunately, if one is willing to take a second look at his or her surroundings, there is always something for which one can be grateful. The following are a few practices one may follow to increase his or her feelings of gratitude and, therefore, positivity.

(I mean, you’re currently reading this brilliant and inspiring piece of literature, so really you should be feeling pretty damn grateful already. But in the off chance that you are not already overcome with joy and a newfound love of life from reading the words I’ve written thus far — infinitesimal as those odds may be — here are some ways you can turn the quarantine into a gratitude practice instead of sadly sitting at home in your spacious living room watching Netflix on your giant smart flat-screen TV in your pajamas and sipping your Ethiopian blend espresso latte or what-have-you while shopping for a face steamer from your laptop.)

Recognize what you have.

You may feel as though you have very little. But take a second look and you will often realize that you have more than you first thought. We live surrounded by any number of modern technological inventions that allow us to live in comfort.

(Like that milk foamer, smart TV, laptop, and Netflix. You know that whole internet thing that you’re using to tweet a minute-by-minute update of your increasing despair? You can also use it to read, watch television and movies, learn languages, study any number of topics, and even follow online trainers for exercise routines that you’re too lazy to come up with on your own.)

Be wise with your tools — rather than investing time in yet another conflicting report of what may or may not be killing you, find a way to inspire yourself to make healthy, positive decisions and pursue self-growth.

(Or look at cat videos. It’s always good to look at cat videos.)

Appreciate — or form — your community.

Modern technology enables us to keep in touch with loved ones not only across the country, but even across the world. We are capable of forming communities with like-minded people anywhere and everywhere. Certainly, many are currently forced to limit the interactions we have with others in person, but we are fortunate to have the ability to maintain communication and connection via other means.

(So if you’re tired of hearing your Great Aunt Linda’s conspiracy theories about how COVID 19 is actually caused by 5G radio waves, you can unfollow her on Facebook and start joining the communities across the UK that are clapping at the sky for children. Or, if you think clapping at the sky for children, that Brits are going a little off their rockers, and that the whole response to this coronavirus outbreak is a bit overblown, you can join a community of skeptics who are still convinced that flu numbers are worse than the coronavirus numbers are ever likely to get in most locations. Or, if you’re not sure what to think, you can join all of the above communities and decide for yourself which seems to be full of the most nut-jobs. The world is your oyster.)

Simplify your needs.

Or rather, recognize how simple your real needs are. We often mistake our small luxuries for necessities. Even simple appliances such as microwaves and refrigerators were once unconceived of, much less commonplace.

(Yes, I too get mad enough to flip a table when I forget my Eggos in my 8-setting broil-optional toaster and they get slightly overdone. Or at least I did when I had Eggos to over-toast, now it’s just plain old thick-cut white toast. Boring.
Nonetheless, before you throw your toaster out the window in frustration screaming how this is all that one bat in Wuhan’s fault, you might want to take a step back and recognize that at least you have a toaster. And an Eggo to burn in it. And a window through which to throw it. Which suggests you also have a roof over your head. And now that the weather is warming up, you might even have a bright, sunny day and a nice cool breeze that will drift pleasantly through the whole you would make in your window with the toaster. And if you do decide to throw the toaster out of the window anyway, now you just have an excuse to finally order that new version of the toaster that bimbo Neighbor Sarah had been boasting about incessantly up until she, like you, stopped going outside or looking other humans or their dogs in the eye for fear of spontaneously combusting into a Corona-garbage-fire.)

There are naturally some very real and very negative consequences of the COVID 19 outbreak. People are sick. Global economies are suffering. Yet, these are things the world has experienced before, and still, it turns on. If there is one thing we know about the human race, it is that we are resilient.

(So take a break from your daily tune-in to all this “sky is falling” media and take a deep breath, get a little bit of sun, and say thank you to God, the Universe, your daily essential oils, or whatever it is to which you attribute your happiness. And then kindly send me a box of Eggos. Enriching your life is hungry work.)

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Jojo Lee

Jojo Lee

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An (often nude) model/writer/performer/creator based in Tokyo, Japan. I write fiction and nonfiction about love, relationships, depression, culture, and stuff.