Holly Richardson: There are ways to find gratitude in 2020

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) In this April 19, 2019, photo, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson speaks during a news conference at the Temple Square South Visitors Center in Salt Lake City. Nelson called on members Friday to flood social media over Thanksgiving week with messages of gratitude in what he hopes will serve as a healing tool as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, racism and a lack of civility.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude this month, both personally and collectively. November is typically the month when attention is focused on gratitude — daily gratitude posts on social media, gratitude lists are made and gratitude journals are dusted off and opened.

This year has been different. There are fewer posts of gratitude and more of anger. Fewer posts giving thanks and more giving the finger. I read a comment recently that said something like: “Mother Earth sent us all to our rooms in March. What have we learned?”

As a mom who has sent argumentative kids to their rooms to cool off, settle down and think, that resonated with me.

There is no question that this year’s holiday season will be unique. Thanksgiving dinners might be shared over Zoom and watching “The Nutcracker” might have to be done virtually. It’s OK to be sad that things are different. Every year, military families with deployed service, missionary families and grieving families who lost a loved one during the previous year experience “different.” You are hardly alone in adjusting to different.

I could give you the research on why gratitude is good for us, not the least of which are the feel-good hormones of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that flood our brains when we are grateful. I could remind you to take “be grateful” off your to-do list and make gratitude a lifestyle. Instead, I will just invite you (and me) to dig a little deeper and discover either new or renewed appreciation for the gifts of 2020.

Honestly, I am thankful that 2020 has not been the worst year of our family’s lives. Burying children is much harder than wearing a mask and social distancing.

I am thankful for technology that allows me to connect with others. I recently discovered just how fun the video sharing app Marco Polo can be. (I know, I know. Slow to the party.) I’m largely an extrovert, and it’s been hard to not be around people. This app helps with that. I am deeply grateful for friends and family this year. It is easy to take them for granted.

I am thankful for two-ply toilet paper. I am thankful for canning jar lids. I am thankful for a decadeslong practice of storing extras of what we use regularly (not just food) because it helped our family not run out when store shelves were empty.

I have a renewed appreciation for health care workers. I’ve spent time in hospitals as a registered nurse and never were the demands on my time and emotional capacity as intense as they are on health professionals right now. I am grateful for their perseverance in the face of not only a deadly pandemic, but also in the face of mocking, anger and disbelief.

I am grateful for the opportunity — and, dare I say, responsibility — to use my voice for those who have lost theirs and to use my position of privilege to amplify voices not being heard.

I am grateful for the cocooning that has happened this year. Yes, it’s difficult and even painful at times. But a time of cocooning is also a time of growth. Like the caterpillar that must give up its entire self to the process of change, there is beauty on the other side.

After this column was mostly written, I listened to Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speak briefly on the healing power of gratitude. “Counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems,” he said. He invited us to #GiveThanks and turn social media into our own personal gratitude journals for the next seven days.

Challenge accepted.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.