Shortly after the pandemic shut-down in March 2020 when anxiety and fear were the dominant emotions, I encouraged my clients to practice two daily rituals—one in the morning and one at night before going to bed. The morning activity is Joyful Anticipation. I asked clients to take a few moments each morning to commit to three activities they could look forward to that day. At a time when so much that brought joy was absent from our lives it was comforting to consider what joy was still possible and to be intentional about making sure every day included some joy-infusing activity: making time for exercise, a walk in the park, preparing a favorite recipe, watching a new movie, reading a book, cleaning a closet, taking a nap. The Joyful Anticipation ritual is a way of making a commitment to giving to oneself, an act of self-care that brings positive energy to counteract the feelings of fear, anxiety and grief. It’s not about denying the sad and hard stuff of life but about making space for good so that the bad doesn’t take over.
The ritual I suggested for the end of the day was Gratitude Reflection—identify three specific interactions or experiences that inspired a feeling of gratitude: a neighbor offered to pick up groceries, a friend dropped off a loaf of banana bread and a package of hard to find toilet paper, news of a negative medical test result, a lesson on how to Zoom provided by a grandchild. Gratitude is an emotion that contributes to our health and well-being and strengthens our capacity for relationships with others by compelling us to acknowledge how we have been supported, encouraged, inspired, and affirmed by other people. Especially at a time when many of us are feeling isolated and lonely, a daily ritual of recognizing and opening space for connection with others and giving conscious attention to being emotionally touched by the actions of another offers powerful and accessible antidotes to feelings of despair and grief.
The clients who reported practicing the 2 daily rituals, including those who honestly reported that they couldn’t do the 2 rituals every day because some days there was nothing to joyfully anticipate, and some days it was too hard to find something to feel grateful for—everyone who practiced the rituals, even just on some days, reported a reduction in feelings of anxiety, fear and depression and an increase in feelings of hope and energy.
The two powerfully positive rituals are about giving and being grateful: Thanksgiving. This year many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the real in-person company of family and friends. We can again begin to enjoy gathering traditions that were missed or felt risky for many long months.
May feelings of gratitude and giving open our hearts. We’ve all been through a hell of a time. All that needs to change in our world can only be changed if we stay connected to what’s good and strong and positive in ourselves and in each other and keep giving and being grateful. Focus on the feast, not only the feast of delicious food but the feast of human connection and the pleasures of real, in-person companionship and joyfully celebrate this holiday of gratitude and generosity.
Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.