As the pandemic wears on, our coping skills may be wearing thin. Many of us may feel less grateful and motivated than we’d like to be.
And, if you’re spending time on social media right now, you might be seeing an onslaught of posts encouraging people to feel lucky, blessed and grateful that they don’t have it worse during the pandemic. Other popular social media posts urge readers to “seize the opportunity” and be as productive and creative as possible.
But what if you’re feeling angry? Struggling to feel grateful? Or you’re just plain unmotivated?
Don’t worry. You aren’t an ungrateful person who lacks discipline. You’re just human. And these are normal feelings during very abnormal times.
Some of you may be asking, “But isn’t gratitude good for us?”
You would be right. Yes, practicing gratitude for just a few minutes each week can lead to social-emotional and physical health benefits.
The American psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons studied the impact of gratitude on a variety of outcomes. His research showed after 10 weeks of his students writing down what they were grateful for, they showed better sleeping patterns and healthier immune systems. Students were also more compassionate, had improved their relationships, and the list goes on.
But there is one important variable that wasn’t present during previous research on gratitude – a global pandemic ripping through our lives like a tsunami.
So, we need to be okay with feeling two things at one time. We can be grateful to have a roof over our heads, our health and our safety, and yet feel unhappy about the effect COVID-19 has had on our lives.
For people who aren’t feeling grateful, a Facebook post that tells us to feel more grateful can make us feel worse.
According to “social comparison theory” in psychology, people tend to evaluate themselves based on criteria like attractiveness, wealth, intelligence and success. Too many of these social comparisons and we’re likely to feel envy, regret, guilt and defensiveness.
With more time on our hands to use social media, we are engaging in more self-comparisons than ever.
This doesn’t mean people should stop posting gratitude memes and motivational quotes altogether. But it’s important to understand why people are putting these messages out there. For some people, these messages may help them cope through tough times.
But not everyone finds the same messages helpful. Instead of feeling badly about not living up to others’ expectations, simply say, “You do you right now, and I’ll do me.”
When trying to help becomes unhelpful
Other popular social media posts these days encourage people stuck inside to emulate Shakespeare or Isaac Newton. According to these posts, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic lockdown while Newton invented calculus.
These suggestions are often not very helpful.
For people who are already anxious and stressed, these comparisons can have a negative effect on their well-being. This kind of emotional pressure can lead to decreased happiness, a lack of emotional control and uncertainty. It can also negatively impact relationships, decrease empathy and compassion and further isolate people.
In short, all the emotional reserves we need right now are tested and strained.
Even Shakespeare preferred not to create in isolation. He despised being alone, which is perhaps why King Lear is filled with all the darkness of his mind during that lonely and terrifying time.
We need to make sure we don’t push what is working for us on others. We need to use empathy more than ever right now.
So ask yourself before you post, “Does this sound judgmental or preachy? Does it sound like I’m shaming others?”
For people who are feeling unmotivated or ungrateful, there is no right answer here and no right way to be. For me personally, I might have a day where I’m productive and grateful, and then the next day I simply want to stay in bed.
On those days, I wrap up in a blanket and put on a movie – or three. Both my productive and grateful days and my pajamas and snuggle-the-kids days give me what I need for my mental health. And, I’m completely okay that I haven’t made a major scientific breakthrough during this time in isolation.
I’m just taking it one day at a time.