Waking Up to Gratitude: AfterTalk Weekly

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

I’ve become a fan of sunrises.

Before COVID-19 changed all of our lives, my busy travel and teaching schedule had me hopping. Most mornings after I woke up, I went straight to work. I had a love-hate relationship with the adrenaline of stress. I was a slave to emails, itineraries, deadlines, and flight schedules. Now I’m in limbo. With most of my presentations postponed or canceled, I’m home. I have time to linger over my morning cup of coffee. I have time to breathe and to think. I have time to marvel at the sunrise.

More and more, what I’ve found myself thinking about is gratitude. I’m feeling so grateful for my life these days that I’m often awash in the warm fuzziness of appreciation. The feeling sneaks up on me when I’m having an inconsequential chat with my wife or puttering around in my kitchen. It blooms when I gaze out the window or think about my new grandson.

During this morning’s sunrise, I sat down to give more thought to how this pandemic has created an opportunity to wake up to the power of gratitude. As I inventory my gratitude in this article, I invite you to do the same.

Gratitude for friends and family

Perhaps, like me, you’ve had more time to spend with your household members in recent months. I’ve been married to my wife for 35 years, but I’ve never spent as much time in close company with her as I have since March. Our forced captivity has given me a new appreciation for our relationship, and my unconditional love for her has only deepened.

Because I’m not able to spend as much time with non-household family members and friends, on the other Waking Up to Gratitude: AfterTalk hand, when I do get to see them, I’m so thankful that my heart breaks wide open. My first grandchild was born just before COVID restrictions started, and I’ve only been able to visit him a handful of times. When I get to hold him, boy does it feel amazing to have in my arms.

Gratitude for basic essentials

I have a warm, dry, safe place to live. I’ve never felt more fortunate to have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. The other day I happened by a food-bank drive-through. In a middle-class neighborhood, cars were lined up as far as the eye could see. All the extra “stuff” I have in my life doesn’t matter in the least. I have the basics, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Gratitude for interdependence

Here in America, we’re infected by the “ideal” of rugged individualism. Coined by Herbert Hoover in 1928, this term encapsulated the misguided notion that individuals should be self-reliant and independent, not counting on others for support. These days I look at the grocery-store clerks, healthcare professionals, teachers, and other essential workers with newfound appreciation. I’m not independent. I need them. My family needs them. I also need my neighbors and fellow community members. Whenever I have the chance, I am kind and generous. And I am happy to wear a mask to help keep all of them safe.

Gratitude for vocation

I founded the Center for Loss and Life Transition decades ago to help people help others. I train grief caregivers. During the pandemic, I’ve been mourning not being able to conduct as many trainings or give live presentations to large groups. Webinars are just not the same. But still, being cut off from my life’s work has made me even more humbled by the past opportunities I’ve had to reach and connect. It’s something I won’t take for granted again.

Gratitude for nature

I’m putting down my phone, turning off the TV, and getting outside more. I live atop the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and while I’ve always been renewed by nature, I find myself engaging with it more deeply these days. My wife and I like to take our dogs and go for hikes. I’ve been going for more bike rides. What a gift it is to live on this marvelous planet.

Gratitude for this moment

I realize now that I used to be overly busy. I was better at doing than being. But now I’m appreciating every slow, unscheduled moment.

Recently my healthy, 60-year-old brother-in-law spent eleven days in an ICU on a ventilator due to COVID-19. Waking Up to Gratitude: AfterTalk For a time, it was touch-and-go. Happily, he survived. Here in North America we tend to obliviously go through life with a high level of assumed invulnerability. Yet every single one of us is mortal, and living each day with an intentional awareness that we might not wake up tomorrow enriches every single minute.

Gratitude for surrender

This pandemic has me more aware than ever that I have little control over the most important things in life. I can’t keep my loved ones safe. I’m not in charge of the world. So I’m learning to surrender to this lack of control and find gratitude wherever I can.

What are you grateful for?

 When we consciously value something, we’re grateful for it. We actively cherish it. I’ve awakened to gratitude for these most precious values in my life. How about you? Will you use the reset created by the pandemic to inventory your gratitude? Will you adjust your habits and daily routines so they’re more in alignment with your deepest values?

The sun is fully up now. It’s shining on a brilliant new day. And I am so grateful to be here.


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