From the moment the first shops were closed, the first concerts were postponed, and the first social restrictions were imposed, we’ve been eagerly counting down the days until they’d all open up again. Then a roadmap of dates was dangled tauntingly in front of our Zoom-weary eyes, which only heightened the sense of anticipation.
And who can blame us for looking forward to this? COVID restrictions have been a major cause of stress and anxiety, so it’s only natural that we can’t wait until they’re condemned to the past.
On the other hand, this fast-forward mentality has made it much harder to stay present. It’s been difficult not to wish away the days as the roadmap deadlines draw closer and closer, as we universally tried to press the ‘skip’ button on 2020.
Long before COVID, we were already living in a world that was encouraging us to spent the majority of our time thinking about the future. Every stage of life - school, University, job, promotion, etc. - is portrayed as another rung on the ladder as we gradually progress towards…well…if we’re being honest, no-one really knows what it is we’re even trying to reach.
I’ve always been quite a cautious person, which means if given the choice between something that will benefit me right now, and something that will help me in the future, I will nearly always choose the latter. We’re praised if we anticipate and plan ahead, and of course, thinking about your future-self undoubtedly helps us in the long run.
However, it’s of course equally as important to slow down and appreciate each day for what it is. Not everything needs to be a stepping-stone, and the pandemic has helped me realise this.
Which brings me to the main topic of this article - gratitude. I’d read about Buddhist monks practicing daily gratitude meditations, and there are various references to the value of giving thanks in their texts. But what really sparked my interest in this was the fact that over the course of the pandemic, there seemed to be an increasing number of Country artists releasing singles, EPs and albums that centred around one key theme. Frustration at not being able to tour? Cabin fever from being stuck at home all day? Anxiety about the future?
Nope - the recurring theme was gratitude. Each week, new Country songs emerged about feeling grateful for getting to be with family and loved ones, and having the time to pick up old hobbies that touring and recording schedules usually wouldn’t have allowed for.
It was just interesting to me that in this time when everything seemed to be going wrong, the mentality wasn’t one of anger or resentment. It was one of acceptance, and actively seeking the silver linings and blessings in disguise.
I thought, if all these artists can find peace and contentment through a deep sense of gratitude during a pandemic, of all times, then surely it must be a pretty effective way to deal with anxiety and fear.
This is something I’ve really honed in on over the past year, and I have to say, it’s been a huge, huge help to me in dealing with general stresses and worries.
Firstly, gratitude feels really good. The feeling of gratitude releases dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’, and life coach Jay Shetty has called the feeling of gratitude ‘the world’s most powerful drug’. Although this is perhaps a little extreme, you do notice that as you start feeling gratitude for one thing, more and more things start seeming worthy of gratitude. You might start with the usual suspects, like ‘good health’ or ‘loved ones’, and then realise that you can make a point of being thankful for smaller things too, like ‘the comfort of this Kanye hoodie’ and ‘the awesome new song that Kenny Chesney just released’. Okay, I know what you’re thinking - these are also very broad things that everyone is obviously thankful for…
Nothing is off limits, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. For example, on his Instagram page Big Sean hosted a self-help discussion with his mother, Myra Anderson, and they talked about the importance of gratitude. Myra spoke about how she felt immense gratitude for her spit.
I had the same reaction that I imagine you just had - spit? I mean, sure, it’s useful, I guess. But is it really something that truly warrants a great sense of appreciation? Myra’s reasoning was that a friend had gotten throat cancer, and she was having to painstakingly drink through a straw every 30 minutes, in order to replace the saliva that wasn’t being produced as a result of her treatment.
Which brings me back to COVID. Of course, it’s been an awful situation, and it can be difficult to find gratitude when millions of people are suffering. On top of that, there can be a sense of guilt associated with focussing on things that are good in our lives, when so many people have had such traumatic experiences during the pandemic.
I’m not by any means saying that we should just ignore all the pain and suffering that’s out there, or that we should gloss over the troubles that we’re dealing with ourselves. There will undoubtedly be times where we can’t, and perhaps even shouldn’t, feel gratitude for unfortunate things that happen to us.
All I’m saying is, we live in a world that is moving faster and faster. So much so that we seem to spend more time worrying about what might or might not happen in the future, that we forget to stop and appreciate what’s happening right now. I’ll be honest, I’ve found this a difficult perspective to adjust to, and I still often catch my mind racing off into the distance.
But starting and ending each day on a note of gratitude has really helped me to slow my mind down, and to feel a genuine sense of thankfulness for the simpler, smaller gifts that I don’t have to wait to receive, because they’re already right here in the present.
And when I do get frustrated or anxious about the future, I find that Country music is brilliant for giving me those little reminders about what really matters. So many of my favourite Country songs are about how - despite the pressures we all feel - life isn’t necessarily all about chasing after things. Sure, your career is important, and all those plans you have for the future will stand you in good stead when the time comes. Just don’t miss out on your present by dreaming about a future time and place - because let’s face it, nobody knows exactly what the future holds, regardless of how watertight your plans might feel.
So here’s a selection of some songs that help keep me grounded in the moment, and that remind me to appreciate the little things in life, rather than getting hung up on hypotheticals. Gratitude is powerful, and I can genuinely say it’s surprising just how significant an impact it has on the outlook and mentality that you bring to your daily life.
Whether you want to start noting down three things you’re grateful for each night before you sleep, or whether you just want to start your day with a song or two that puts you into an appreciative mindset - there’s no right or wrong way to practice gratitude, it’s whatever suits you best.
By the same token, we’ll all naturally feel thankful for very different things. For example - I might feel a huge sense of gratitude for the fact that you’ve made it this far in my article, while you might feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that it’s nearly over…!
Either way, if you’re looking for a little inspiration on how to start actively practicing gratitude, check out my ‘Gratitude Tunes’ playlist below - and feel free to make your own, and share it with us on social media!
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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