Five Ways to Express Socially Distant Gratitude
What if all we had tomorrow were the things we were grateful for today?
It’s a powerful question that reminds us how to embrace an attitude of gratitude. Today is traditionally marked by expressing the things we are thankful for. This year has been difficult on all of us in different ways. And while that can make it harder for us to express our appreciation or give thanks, it’s also when it’s the most important.
Gratitude changes us. It isn’t just a feel good moment, though it does make us feel good. But expressing gratitude frequently alters the chemistry in our brain, elevating the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine the entire day. This helps our brain lower cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone, meaning we are happier and more relaxed long after we give thanks.
Studies have shown gratitude can lower blood pressure, increase quality of sleep, lower anxiety, raise our optimism levels, and so much more. The more we practice not just feeling gratitude, but expressing it to those around us, the more powerful these benefits become.
Whether we gather physically or virtually today, it’s important to embrace the ones we love and show our appreciation, even from a distance. Here’s five ways we can give thanks and share the love with those who mean the most to us.
Plan a long-distance potluck
It doesn’t have to be holidays or special events to plan a socially distant get together with a personal touch. One of the best things about gatherings is being able to eat family favorites or special dishes prepared by individuals. Sure, we can make our own macaroni and cheese, or cook our own ham, but if our aunt makes that dish with particular flavors or no one makes pie like our best friend, missing these dishes can make virtual gatherings feel a little lacking.
Instead, depending on who is nearby and with a little planning, we can have the best of both worlds. Have everyone prepare a dish, separated into as many containers as guests. In the days prior to the event, everyone drops their dish off on each guest’s porch.
The day of, everyone warms their dishes and sets a video call around their table. While this may not have the same feel of an in person gathering, sharing the experience of eating all our favorite foods made by the people we love, can help us feel closer to them.
Send a letter
In this digital age, sending a text or an email is as natural as breathing. But there’s some special magic in writing a letter and sending it in the mail. First, when we write anything by hand, we repeat what we write five times in our brain as we write. When it comes to expressing our gratitude for someone we care about, this is an especially powerful repetition.
Studies have shown that we tend to under estimate how much handwritten notes mean to the recipients. When we take the time to send the note, their gratitude for receiving the letter sparks a profound emotional response in both the recipient and the sender.
Beyond emotional gratitude, handwritten notes activate multiple areas of our brain in ways typing simply does not. Our parietal and occipital lobes show increased activity, along with sensory motor cortex in our frontal lobe. The more gratitude we express, the more neural sensitivity we show, which primes our brain for greater cognitive functionality overall.
Create a gratitude jar
We often talk about the power of a gratitude journal. The idea that we start and end our day writing down three things we are grateful for. These can be things we are thankful for that happened during the day or broader aspects of our life that we want to capture our appreciation for. But we can also take this idea and change the format in a way that allows us to share our gratitude with others.
In a family or home with multiple people living in it, we can create jars with everyone’s name on them. Whenever we feel like expressing our gratitude for acts big and small, we can write them down and put the note in the jar. Individuals can read a note whenever they need a pick me up, or once a week, we can take the time as a group to read a few notes out loud.
Another way to collect our gratitude and share is by keeping a gratitude journal for the people in our lives. This can make for an awesome annual project where they receive the final project on a birthday or special holiday. Giving them the opportunity to read about 365 ways they impacted our life is a way to appreciate someone every day and allowing them to see the profound ways they’ve influenced and affected our life.
Pay it forward
Expressing gratitude is more than saying thank you. It’s about finding ways to let the people who mean the most to us, know how much they mean. And one way we can do this is by finding ways to make their lives easier.
All of us know, there are rarely enough hours in the day to get everything done. Sometimes we put off the things we love, like taking a bath or reading a novel because we’re busy taking care of everyone else. If we live with someone who always makes dinner, or spends their day off cleaning the house, a powerful way to show them our appreciation for all they do is give them an afternoon off. Draw a bath for them, or surprise them by doing the housework ahead of time.
And this doesn’t have to be things around our own home. Perhaps we have a neighbor who always has a friendly wave that helps us start our day right. Shoveling snow from their driveway or raking leaves from their yard can be a small way to show our gratitude for how they’ve made us feel.
Schedule a virtual call
It’s true that many of us are feeling zoom fatigue these days. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to schedule one more. Spending all our time alone and only interacting with people we work with can be taxing on our mental health. Even if we get along with our coworkers, there’s still something different about being friendly while in work mode.
There’s also the fact that some people in our lives aren’t as connected with their workplace. Grandparents or parents that are retired may go days in this socially distanced world without speaking to anyone. Scheduling an hour a week can be a way to let them know how much we appreciate them, even if we don’t need them as much as we did growing up.
We can take this one step further and volunteer to video chat with seniors who don’t have family. Reaching out and bringing joy to another person, even a stranger, activates the same areas in our brain as gratitude. And we never know what we’ll discover in the endeavor. Perhaps that individual has impacted our life in an unexpected way, allowing us to appreciate the way we’re all interconnected in amazing ways.
Gratitude is powerful. We know that the things we appreciate, appreciate. We train our brain to seek out what we find valuable in all the behaviors we engage in throughout our day. By making gratitude a daily habit, we reinforce those neural pathways, making gratitude a natural part of everything we do.
Even in times where we can’t wrap our arms around those we love, we can find ways to express our appreciation to those who mean the most to us. Get creative and say thank you to as many people as we can, as often as we can. Not only will we feel better, but we’ll make those around us feel good too.