The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “grateful” is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Being kind and receiving kindness are important parts of being human. Appreciating each other and the world around us is something inherent to our very DNA, as evidenced by ancient artwork and the behavior of our ancestors. Humans have been taking care of each other for thousands of years; protecting each other, forming connections, and appreciating life and the world around them. In Vietnam, archeologists studying the Neolithic burial site of Mán Bạc unearthed the body of a young adult. Referred to as “Burial 9,” he suffered from a severe bone disorder and was mostly paralyzed, yet lived for at least 10 years after his paralysis. His age and the care given to his grave indicate he was loved, protected, and nurtured despite his inability to hunt. Other archaeological discoveries include French wall paintings evidently made by children, who had to have been shown and taught how to do so, provided with the materials, and in some cases, lifted up to complete their drawings.
Knowing all this, we can surmise that humans have been celebrating life, compassion, and each other for thousands of years. Even if we can’t conceptualize the reasons behind “why” prehistoric humans did such things as care for their disabled or teach children to paint because we don’t truly know what the time period was like, we can make extremely educated guesses that all circle back around to the fact that humans are social animals. There would be nothing to gain from this behavior besides a good, warm feeling. From a chemical standpoint, human brains rely on social cues to help trigger the release of important chemicals. One example of this is smiling. The brain interprets the positioning of facial muscles as a trigger to release endorphins, regardless of whether the smile is being forced or if it is natural. Chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin provide a feeling of satisfaction and happiness, while endorphins relieve pain. Simply being around other humans you enjoy can make you feel better, and little acts of kindness can have an effect on you and all the people around you.
Simply remembering positive memories and being grateful they happened can have a positive effect on your health. Focusing on how much you appreciate and enjoy something in your life gives you a strong sense of satisfaction that can have a lasting effect on stress and depression levels, especially if you try to be grateful each day of your life. Connecting to others may be more difficult given the virus, but people continue to find ways to interact with each other. Laughing together on video calls, seeing smiles and smiling yourself, and looking into someone’s eyes through a screen are still valid ways of interaction and provide you with more than being alone and quiet ever will. It can feel difficult and unfulfilling to interact with your family and peers if you’re still limited to digital interaction, but staying grateful for what you do have and avoiding despair will keep you safe from some of the more quiet effects of COVID-19. Remain connected with who you can and remember that connections are important.