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The role of gratitude in 2021

Controversial opinion: 2020 is not a dirty word
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Ok sure, 2020 brought with it an energy that doesn’t even need to be described here – because we all know exactly what it was, sigh. We may never want to revisit many aspects of it, but it also ushered in some powerful lessons and moments. It turned so much upside down that maybe some rotten things fell out. Here are some of the key aspects that a lot of people have experienced in 2020, myself included, that we can actually be thankful for.

1. Slowing down

If last year taught us anything, it’s the power of slowing down and enjoying the simpler things. The ‘normal’ world is always working, travelling, interacting, planning, progressing … But in a global pandemic, those things are all off the table.

This was incredibly revealing and powerful. More time, the slowed-down calendar, and lack of ability to move around at some points forced us to think. To be. To contemplate, and let time pass. Normal years don’t tend to give us that, and it was a gift.

2. Being kinder to yourself

Self-care evolved in 2020 to take on a whole new meaning. When everyone was at home in various stages of lockdown, creating new routines that promoted positive mental health and kept us socially connected were crucial. We realised we were under enormous, but invisible pressure – taking care of ourselves was no longer optional.

The self-care movement grew beyond surface level and Instagramable skincare routines and pampering, into genuine awareness of the need for social health, deliberate mindfulness, meditation and exercise. Unsurprisingly, downloads of mental wellness apps surged last year, helping people cope with all those new stresses being thrown their way.

3. A tighter focus

2020 also gave us a renewed focus on understanding what mattered. This, again, is not something we're given most years. We had the time and space to really understand what it was that we wanted, and to begin to take steps or at least think about how we were going to go after it.

The great ‘slowing down’ that lockdowns imposed on us meant our goals could silently rise to the surface and demand to be seen again. Things we may have been putting off or were too scared to tackle, like a new business venture, health and fitness goals, financial goals and dreams were suddenly plain for us to see. It pushed us to reassess our living situation – after so much time spent in small apartments and houses during lockdown, many people packed their bags and headed for a sea (or tree) change. Regional areas across the country are now experiencing a surge in new residents as people pursue a slower pace of life.

4. Deeper appreciation

The concept of gratitude can also fall victim to meaningless platitudes. 2020 taught us to genuinely appreciate our everyday lives and all the things that we've access to.

In the light of the pandemic, simple things like going to the shops for fresh food, spending time with family and friends, going to the movies with your partner or eating out – let alone going to events like weddings or graduations – now all enjoy the glow of gratitude. Research suggests this newfound sense of gratitude and appreciation for our loved ones n particular, might be here to stay. One survey undertaken with parents in the US last year found that 75 per cent of respondents planned to make changes in their post-pandemic lives, making some of the new habits they’d picked up during the pandemic (like spending more time together as a family or paring back schedules) permanent.

5. Newly found hobbies and passions

Finally, 2020 may have conspired to allow you to explore something new! The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported last year that over a third of us spent more time reading, doing crafts, cooking and baking than we did in our pre-pandemic lives. Nearly a quarter of us started exercising more during lockdown. Maybe your garden or pet benefited from extra attention, too.

If you’re lucky, you may have even stumbled upon a new habit or passion that started as just ‘something to do’ and has turned into something more – a new business or a new way of living. Many of these habits are likely here to stay, with the ABS revealing that people expect to work from home more often than they did pre-pandemic, and to continue to prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing.

2020 definitely didn’t give most of us what we wanted or expected, but maybe it gave us some things we needed. And that is pretty powerful, and something worth holding onto. To maintain those positive habits and attitudes you picked up during the global pandemic, consider taking a leaf out of Janice Kaplan’s bestselling book, The gratitude diaries: how a year looking on the bright side can transform your life, to reaffirm the value of appreciating what you have.

Hang on tight to the new pandemic habits that made life better.

– The Coach Place Global

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