Pursuing Gratitude to Face Down Loss

aerial view of wildfire and smoke in a forest

Practicing gratitude shifts your focus from what you don’t have, or have lost, to what you do have. It’s finding joy where you can in life, and not letting envy or grief bog down your positivity. Right now, amid the wildfires that are currently ravaging the Western states, gratitude is especially important--and as I’ve watched the fires, I’ve seen a more tangible analog to COVID-19 in the devastation, anxiety, and loss they cause.

As of September 17, wildfires have consumed over 4.5 million acres in Western states. Thousands of homes, and dozens of lives, have been lost. Fueled by unusually hot and dry weather, this fire season is shaping up to be one of our worst on record--in California, where the majority of these fires burn, wildfire season typically does not peak until October.

The pandemic crisis that the world is facing is in many ways similar to the wildfire crisis facing California, Oregon, and Washington, and to the other natural disasters affecting each region of the country. Millions of people are at risk of losing their houses, lives, or livelihood, and for thousands, that risk is realized. People are confined to their homes, school has been canceled and so many social, career, and life plans have been delayed or fallen apart.

Focus on what you HAVE, not what you’ve LOST

mother and son reading together

When faced with loss, no matter how large or small, we have a choice of how to respond: we can focus on what was taken from us, or we can feel gratitude for what we still have. The two options aren’t mutually exclusive--it is important to remember and mourn our lost time, homes, or loved ones--but when we approach loss with an attitude of gratitude, for both the lost things and for the things that remain, we are much better set up to move forward and rebuild. 

It’s important to look beyond what we’ve lost, for both our mental and physical wellbeing. There are many avenues to gratitude, including personal gratitude journals and apps or family gratitude activities (think the Thanksgiving “I’m grateful for...” but every day!). Head over to this article for more information on making gratitude a habit.

I see this play out in my own home, with my daughter whose freshman year of high school has been moved online indefinitely. This is a small loss compared to what many people are facing, but to her, it’s very big. It’s easy for her to imagine what a normal schoolyear would have looked like, and I see her mourning the loss when she talks about the challenges of remote learning and worries about not being able to make friends. 

There are some days, though, when she is able to look beyond that loss and live fully with what she has: she is busy with school and sports practices, she video chats often with her friends from middle school, and she’s watching Naruto with her siblings, just for starters. I’m working with her to focus on those positive things in her life, and to accept the things she cannot change.

I hope that you are able to fill your life with gratitude and find the resilience to move forward, leaving behind the things that you have lost.

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