Editor’s Note: Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach whose latest novel, Louisiana Catch, was reviewed on Impakter when it came out in 2018. Her 13th book, A Piece of Peace, will be out in the fall of 2021. Here, in an essay on gratitude, she tells us how to open doors to others and live a better and fuller life after the pandemic, in our post-lockdown world. Jean-François Millet’s A Sower – here with an inspired copy by Van Gogh – reminds us, with his ample, generous gesture to throw seeds, that we always harvest what we sow.
Currently, the world feels polarized in its experience: While the west is reopening and people are starting to travel, Asia is seeing a surge in COVID cases, suffering, and death. On some days, finding gratitude can feel arduous in our post-lockdown world. But I have realized, much like writing or practicing yoga, gratitude is a daily practice that must and can be cultivated.
The warm air is such a poignant reminder of the gift of being alive.
People who have lost family and friends to coronavirus…They might be struggling in so many ways. But acknowledging even three things that you are grateful for daily can help you find your center. On days when nothing else strikes you, exhale on your hands. The warm air is such a poignant reminder of the gift of being alive.
All this came to a head when a colleague kindly offered to do an in-person launch for my upcoming book, “A Piece of Peace” – a collection of essays focused on chronic illness, Ayurveda tips, mindful living, helpful advice and suggestions for creative professionals, and more.
My book launch is in the fall of 2021 in the USA where, in contrast to people in certain parts of the world who can only step out of their homes between fixed hours because of the lockdown. Instead, here in America, we are ready for live, in-person events around the corner and it has brought home to me this essential notion: That feelings of gratitude can have a positive effect on the way we live.
In short, gratitude has a role to play in our lives, even when faced with great difficulties like those of the lockdown.
A long time ago: How I found out about gratitude
A few years ago, when I was at a writing residency in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, I decided to go for a walk and discover bakeries on the Island. I am a cupcake fan and will travel to corners of the world to discover bakeries. The owner of one of the most famous bakeries there didn’t charge me for my order.
When I asked her why, she said, “You are the first person today to have walked into my store and said a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you.’ I am sick of people who come with a sense of entitlement and pretend as if gratitude is going out of fashion.”
Growing Up Grateful
When my brother and I were little, my parents taught us to say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate. In fact, my Dad was famous amongst all our friends for being the fun uncle who reiterated the power of expressing gratitude and its impact on enriching our lives. But you don’t see the depth in simple yet relevant teachings when you’re eight years old.
I grew into an optimistic, empathetic, and happy adult surrounded by friends and family and my boarding school upbringing mirrored what I was taught at home; I shared a “healthy” relationship with gratitude. Be it my ability to join a college of my choice, take a two-week vacation, get a new job, revisit a town I love several times, try out restaurants, or buy gifts for others, every time there was a reason, I expressed gratefulness with humility.
But, the true meaning of gratitude, I didn’t know until my mom passed away.
The Beginning of a Journey
Seven years ago, my mother died suddenly. As a writer, being sensitive to my surroundings comes with my profession. Initially, I saw who was truly there for me and my family and who wasn’t. There were those who were looking for their share of the “I-know-the-deceased-better-than-you” pie, and those who didn’t think being there for someone hurting is part of a genuine friendship dynamic. Yet I had put my life on hold to help these same people in their times of need.
I was angry Mom was gone while so many horrible human beings (from my perspective of a grieving daughter) were alive. I was livid because I never got the chance to say goodbye to her. I was shattered that we would never be a complete family again.
With all these raw thoughts and vulnerabilities traversing through me, I turned to yoga to find peace. I had started practicing asanas (yoga postures) decades ago, but that was different from living yoga off the mat and truly showing up to yoga’s teachings. They are so relatable and deep. They shift your perspective on life, relationships, expectations, ego, and gratitude.
I conceded; there is a lot of good in the world. I had to look for it, because only that could shift my focus from what my life now lacked, to what still existed. Because I was so upset with those who had hurt me, I hadn’t acknowledged those who did stand by me. I had failed to acknowledge how much good had come my way even during horrible times. By not being grateful for the positivity that did exist, I had unintentionally filled my life with negativity.
Ultimately, I was hurting because I had not made any room for true gratitude, including my mother’s sudden demise. She didn’t suffer — that was very important to her.
Acknowledging the ‘Good’
Gratitude can’t be about the right occasions or positive experiences only, like when you’re offered a free scoop of ice cream or a slice of cake, a promotion, or a book deal. Gratitude is about acknowledging every good in every moment…even the ones that test you.
A very dear friend lost her teenage son in a road accident recently. It took her a few weeks, but she said to us, “I am grateful that this past year he was home from his boarding school because of the pandemic. At least we got to spend time together as a family while he was studying remotely.”
I am still sad that my mom is gone, but I am grateful she didn’t have to endure the pandemic. It wouldn’t have been easy for her given her health and limited mobility. My friend is heartbroken about the loss of her teenage boy, but she is glad that he didn’t suffer. Sometimes, you must pause and look for gratitude. But make it a habit.
How Practicing Gratitude Has Changed Me – And it could Change You
My life isn’t perfect but making gratitude an everyday practice has helped me transform into a better, calmer, happier, and more compassionate human being. It has made me a more thoughtful wife, daughter, sister, and friend. It has brought me closure.
Sure, it’s an ongoing journey, and I do fall through the cracks. But I notice how practicing gratitude has impacted my writing and relationship with my own self. Just by simply saying thanks, like a powerful and pure mantra, life feels richer.
Gratitude puts us in a positive frame of mind. It requires getting in touch with who we really are. Gratitude can awaken our sense of wonder. It’s easier for us to feel grateful for things that make us happy and that makes life easy for us.
But how do we learn to be grateful for the challenges, trauma, and grief COVID-19 has thrown at us? It takes setting intention and practicing it.
There are plenty of studies proving that gratitude may improve your sleep, lower stress, make your relationships stronger, boost your immune system, lower feelings of isolation, increase capacity for compassion, and enhance the quality of your life.
During the pandemic, gratitude has helped me stay optimistic on days when everything felt out of control. And, on bad days and during rough times, I made a list of what was working for me. This simple activity makes the difficult times feel manageable and becomes a meditative practice.
Bestselling author Melody Beattie was correct in saying: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
That is my goal here and the goal of my upcoming book: My hope that gratitude will open the door for you and let you go on with your life in a happier mood. Gratitude can make all the difference in the world.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com contributors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — Featured image: Jean-François Millet’s The Sower and copy by Van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons