Merriam-Webster defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful: thankfulness.” The scientific evidence regarding gratitude tells us it can have positive impacts on our health, well-being, and behaviors and that of those around us.
Some of its benefits include:
- Improvement in physical health and increased likelihood you’ll take better care of yourself
- Sleeping better
- Reduction in stress, depressed mood and regret
- Increased happiness
- Greater resilience and an enhanced ability to overcome trauma
Additionally, practicing gratitude and having a thankful view of life as you move through each day also has the power to:
- Experience greater self-esteem
- Increase empathy and open our minds to the plight of others
- Feel fewer toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, and frustration
- Increase prosocial behaviors
- Build positive and more satisfying relationships
- Have greater perspective
The role of gratitude in an equity mindset
Living thankfully and seeing our blessings even in the midst of challenges means gratitude can help lay the foundation for an equity mindset. Greater satisfaction with your own life means you are more likely to extend grace to others, to be less judgmental, and potentially to feel less threatened by change, uncertainty, and shifts in power.
And gratitude even teaches us about the importance of recognizing and honoring differences. It makes it easier to celebrate diversity and to see the benefit to all of making sure others are included and have equitable access to opportunities.
As one example of the need for understanding diverse life experiences, studies indicate that how we express and receive gratitude varies from culture to culture.
Lilian J. Shin, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside indicates in “Gratitude in Collectivist and Individualist Cultures” published in the Journal of Positive Psychology that “Giving and receiving help is an expected part of daily life for members of collectivist cultures, rather than an uplifting surprise, as may be the case for those from individualist cultures.”
So even in the world of gratitude, actions considered to be expressions of thankfulness towards others may be different depending on the recipient. One person’s view of an above and beyond gesture may be considered nothing more than an assumed expectation in a culture which operates with the value of “all for one and one for all.”
The need for equity
We live in an increasingly diverse and inequitable world. Many events in 2020 revealed some of the compelling benefits of celebrating our differences to collaborate and achieve common goals for the greater good of humanity. Many others laid bare the dire consequences which are visited upon certain groups because of deeply entrenched ”isms,” such as racism, sexism, ageism, and antisemitism. So, what can you do to make the world more equitable?
Facing the reality of life
It’s just a fact-based reality.
There are inequities in all facets of society related to factors such as gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and where you live. They are present in our communities as well as at work, where commitment at all levels of an organization, material investment and resource allocations, and accountability are all critical to achieving justice in the workplace.
And in an industry such as healthcare, disparities in access, experiences, health literacy, and treatment can literally mean the difference between life and death.
2020 has been a clarion call. George Floyd’s 8 min and 46 second excruciatingly slow and inhumane death at the knee of a white officer made it impossible to unsee the devastating and deadly impact of racial inequalities that is the direct result of 400 years of ongoing systemic racism.
How did we get here?
A systemic, multi-tentacled infrastructure has been erected as a consequence of long-standing feelings of hate, fear, and a desire to control and maintain a concentration of power in the hands of select strata within society.
The result? The examples are almost too numerous to count, but a few include:
- Communities of color suffer disproportionately health disparities, higher rates of unemployment, widening gaps in generational wealth, and criminal justice disparities compared to their white counterparts.
- Women continue to be paid $0.75 or less for every dollar earned by men in the same jobs.
- Rural areas of the country experience a digital divide, which negatively impacts access to healthcare, health outcomes, and educational opportunities.
Racism costs everyone, and public policy expert, Heather C. McGhee, talks about rethinking what we can do to create prosperity for the whole nation in a TED Talk.
“Our fates are linked,” McGhee says. “It costs us so much to remain divided.”
What can YOU do to make a difference?
How are you going to find common humanity with your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those you don’t but who feel the impact of inequity every day?
How can you make a difference?
- Learn about racism.
- Learn about inequity.
- Start a gratitude practice and leverage your feelings of thankfulness and the cascade of benefits which will accrue to use your power to make a difference.
- Turn dissatisfaction into action.
It’s time for action — now!
We are in the middle of a Code Blue. In a hospital, that means there’s an urgent medical emergency usually someone in cardiac or respiratory arrest. A multidisciplinary team springs into action. The goal – save the individual’s life.
The situation is critical for African Americans in this country today. There were numerous Code Blue emergencies this year – including David McAfee and Breonna Taylor to name just two of the 12 victims of police-related deaths in just the first half of 2020 in just the city of Louisville.
They became household names because of the senseless nature in which they died. It’s time for change.
While there were protests and public outcries of support for systemic change, everyday reality is still the same for African American men and women.
As Melody Stanford Martin wrote, a few months before the COVID-19 inequities were officially reported and before the first public racial injustice headline of the year, “It’s not enough to be an ally.” You need “to be an advocate instead.”
While you may think you’re supporting a cause by being an ally, it’s typically a passive role. That type of support can exhaust marginalized communities because as victims they’re still left to do the hard work of freeing themselves from the shackles placed on them by society.
She also points out if allies simply helicopter in when an injustice makes the headlines but don’t take action day in and day out where they work and live, then little progress may be made to address the power and privilege imbalance and inequity which is widespread.
Allies and organizations that choose to take a genuine stand on diversity, inclusion, and equity must walk the talk with a sense of urgency when the cameras have moved on to another story. Stanford Martin lays out 12 ways to advocate for change when working with marginalized people and underrepresented groups.
Learn about racism
It’s also important to understand the history of institutional racism. It provides context to the headlines and statistics.
Several universities offer free courses, some from Ivy League schools, on race and America’s long history of injustice. Yale and Stanford also provide the opportunity to study American history from emancipation to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
Knowing the why of the heightened risk of complications and death and the disproportionate burden of infection and COVID-related mortality borne by Black (and Hispanic/Latinx) populations enables you to study in real-time the havoc 400 years of oppression can wreak in the lives of its victims. There are a number of factors which contribute to this grim picture.
Many members of these groups have a lower socioeconomic status and are in jobs which have been deemed essential, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to the virus. They often carry a greater chronic disease burden than their white counterparts and may not have the same access to care.
And when they enter the healthcare system their treatment may not be of the same quality of that afforded others, especially as conditions during the super-surge make it more likely care will be rationed.
Ready about inequity and talk about racism with your family and friends. It was a bittersweet moment for black bookstore owners this summer when they suddenly sold out of books that have been on their bookshelves for years.
There were reading lists about privilege, racism, anti-racism, and allyship circulating on social media, focused on reshaping the minds of adults and instilling understanding in the minds of children. There was also a push to support black businesses.
Months later, the push for change has faded from the headlines. But, it’s still just as important as it was during the protests.
Channel energy into changing the status quo
We saw this action during the protests fueled by shock and anger. It was a positive reaction.
That’s the message we need to hold onto – there is a way to turn anger and dissatisfaction into positive action. Use the power of these forces for change. It’s been done over and over in our history.
Freetown, Sierra Leone mayor, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, was spurred into action by a devastating rebel invasion in 1999 and the Ebola epidemic in 2014.
She transformed the city by using her dissatisfaction to power her actions.
She recounts the devastation of Ebola.
“I remember crying for hours asking God why this? Why us? But beyond the tears I began to feel again that profound sense of dissatisfaction,” she said.
Watch her inspiring story in her TEDWomen talk.
“We all have one thing in common. We can take risks to make a difference” Aki-Sawyerr said.
How are you going to step out and take a risk to both change and make history?
Gratitude can be leveraged to reduce any of our implicit biases which result in negative consequences for others and to work to eradicate explicit bias, counteract microaggressions, take steps to listen and understand, and to both acknowledge and appreciate the beauty of our differences and the power of the contributions which each of us brings to the table.
Gratitude helps block toxic emotions and can increase one’s sense of self-worth. Feeling less stressed and better about ourselves leaves less room for feelings and actions that result in social injustice and conflict.
Over time you become more capable of empathy and imagining walking in the shoes of others.
We know from studies of neuroplasticity that new neural pathways can be developed in the brain. Which means the more we practice gratitude the easier it becomes to have a mindset which values and prioritizes diversity, inclusion, and equity.
“We are not thinking machines that feel, but emotional machines that think.”
~ Dr. Antonio Damasio
Taking the time to actively notice the good in our lives means we will have a greater appreciation for that which we have and less focus on that which we lack (and may not even need). It can enable us to see others more easily as individuals rather than stereotypes and recognize the areas in which we have common ground and shared values. Genuine curiosity and a sincere interest in others help build resilient connections and an environment of greater respect and authentic inclusion.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Poet, producer, and artist, Jessica Care Moore, gave an enlightening TED Talk, “Gratitude Is a Recipe for Survival.” It’s a raw and emotional condemnation of the flawed healthcare system, and her personal journey with that system.
She wrote it long before COVID-19 starkly put health inequities on display for everyone to see.
The novel coronavirus and the events of this year are a reminder of how much our perspectives can change and open our minds to the reality of the lives of others which may differ greatly from our own.
Make this the year you take action for the greater good and help turn a sometimes thankless world into one of gratitude.