I Asked 75 People What They Felt Gratitude For in 2020
What can we salvage from this year?
2020. A garbage fire. A nightmare. The worst year of many of our lives. A contentious (to say the least) election, a raging worldwide pandemic, lockdowns, unexpected home schooling, social distancing, and spending time away from friends and family.
It’s so bad… I’m almost sorry to see it go.
Now, what in the hell could we be grateful for about THIS year?
Well, when I asked 75 people that exact question, they were quick to answer with a variety of things — from the witty to the practical to the sincere.
It turns out that even amongst the smoking downed aircraft that is 2020, we’re hardwired to search for the things we’re grateful for.
And that benefits us, because gratitude is a powerful emotion. Science-backed research has shown that the simple act of saying “thank you,” can inspire lasting feelings of joy and confidence, both for the giver and receiver. Beyond writing in our gratitude journals, studies have shown that giving gratitude to others is one of the best things we can do for our mental health and resilience. Gratitude can even buffer us from stress and depression — which is a buffer we certainly needed this year!
Reading the responses, I was struck by how people turned negatives (like being forced inside for months on end) into positives, simply by changing their framework.
Time inside could be seen as time to practice new recipes or finally watch some classic movies. Many respondents talked about how they spent significantly more time in nature this year, appreciating the safety they could find there.
We’re going to count down to the most common theme of our gratitude survey. Then we’ll give you four great tools to make gratitude a more regular habit for you in 2021. And here’s how our responses broke down in a word cloud!
First Up, We Were Grateful for…Food!
It makes sense that in a year that many of us spent primarily inside, what we ate and learned to cook turned out to be an unexpected source of gratitude for many of our respondents.
“I made croissants from scratch,” Jessica told us proudly. Ashley, a college student in her 20’s, had a revelatory first-time eating experience, saying, “I ate cheesecake for the first time. It is very good.”
On the more passive side of cooking, Patty said that “Watching endless cooking competitions because it feels good to watch people who work hard win — and also the food looks good!”
I, a novice chef, resubscribed to a meal kit service and rededicated myself to mastering basic skills like chopping onions and making a pan sauce. I can make five more recipes than I could at the start of quarantine…which doubles my repertoire.
Secondly, We Felt Gratitude for New Skills and New Habits
Piyali, a woman in her 20’s, said, “going to therapy and working through my anxiety and relationship issues.” Tamia said she appreciated having the time to grow.
Ethan started a podcast. Patty, in her 20’s, regained her love of reading, saying, “Getting back into reading. Growing up I read a lot but stopped over time. This year I was able to get back into reading and found that it helped with my mental health.”
Starting new projects and reinventing ourselves requires time, a breaking of old habits, and space — and people had that in abundance. I began reading a series of comic novels, which inspired me to start writing my own — a goal I’ve had for years!
Third, People Had Fun With the The Humorous Side of Gratitude
While many of the answers were sincere, more than 10% of respondents were comedic or tongue-in-cheek with their responses. Below are some that made us laugh!
Benjamin said, “On my birthday I attempted a 10k calorie challenge after six months of managing my calories. It was insane, beautiful, life-changing, a cultural reset. However, regrettably, I only managed to eat 5k. It was still the highlight of my year though.”
Benjamin — keep fighting and you may just get there next year! And remember, the swimmer Michael Phelps used to eat more food than that daily, so you’re in good company (gigantic swimmer wingspan not included).
Music can be a powerful mood elevator, and Paul, a college student, said he was grateful for the song “Stupid Love” by Lady Gaga.
And Kelly said that a summation of her year would be, “at least my social anxiety hasn’t been a problem.” Which, come on, is humorously self-aware!
I found some laughs in funny TikToks, reading humor pieces about the pandemic online (here are three of my favorites), and rewatching cheesy action comedy movies, like Starship Troopers, Total Recall, and Armageddon.
Fourth, Spending More Time Inside Made Us More Grateful for Nature
Kelly, a writer in her 20’s, was grateful for the experience of “…swimming in the bay on a perfectly clear day in July.” Steve, a man in his 50’s, talked about being grateful for a “family vacation in Colorado…everyone was cautious and stayed healthy with masks and social distancing.”
Kyle, in his 20’s, said that being outside more was key to maintaining his optimism as the year went on, and Tamia echoed that journaling and time outside was key for her.
Tom and his daughter saw their first wild dolphins on their regular beach walks — which have become a new routine for them during the quarantine.
Mark, in his 40’s, added that being outside was something that 2020 had taught him to value and be more grateful for in the future! We hope you can plan an awesome outdoor trip for 2021, Mark.
And if you want to pay it forward, here are some ways to show gratitude back to the natural world. For me, after I recovered from a gnarly broken toe over the summer, I’ve been extra grateful for the long, multi-mile walks I take with my dog at the end of my workday. Getting outside for an hour or so before heading back in for dinner is an essential reset — and a major part of my daily routine. He loves it too!
And the Winner Is…Gratitude for Connection, Friends, and Family
And coming in at the top of the list? Some version of “connecting more with my family/friends/pets” was an answer that 32 out of 75 respondents gave, making it the top shared answer across the surveys.
In the busy whirlwind that is modern life, we often don’t get enough good quality time with the people we love, or forget to prioritize them. That changed for many of us this year.
Even as Covid-19 has made it harder for us to connect in person, many people moved home, formed quarantine pods with family, or made a significant effort to connect with them over the phone, video calls, and text.
Nell, a woman in her 20’s, wrote that “extra time spent with my mom and dog” was what she was most grateful for. Victoria expressed disbelief that even in this socially distanced world, she’s still made new connections, saying, “I’m in a lot of group texts now?? Somehow I made new friends this year!” Cara, a busy writer in her 40’s, wrote that she had more time with her young son this year than ever.
Jodi, a mother in her 40’s, recalled a very specific moment she was grateful for: “The warmest November on record that allowed us to have a small outdoor birthday party for our 6-year-old.” Katherine, a college student in her 20’s, also brought up her unusual 2020 birthday, saying, “My at-home birthday celebration with my family + Zoom with family friends… a weird type of celebration, but actually a wonderful day!”
Hannah appreciated her community connection, saying she felt gratitude for, “my neighbors and our ability to connect in this challenging and isolating time.” And Grace, a woman in her 30’s, said that the shutdowns gave her extra time with her spouse, who was normally traveling a lot for work.
We had several people that even saw 2020 as a time for romance! Two engagements came up in our replies. Alex, 29, was grateful for his own engagement weekend. Jeff, in his 50’s, was grateful for his son’s engagement.
Considering that gratitude is an emotion that can cause us to form new social connections and strengthen old ones (and even make us more trusting toward strangers), we weren’t surprised this was the most common answer. As we come to a very different than usual holiday season, this reminder of the importance of connection is something to take with us into 2021.
I’m fortunate enough to live in the same city as my parents and sister, and so I was able to spend time with them outside over the summer. Most importantly, I was able to provide some support to my sister after she gave birth to my second nephew — masked, of course.
Resources to Build Your Gratitude in 2021 — And Beyond!
If you’re interested in building your gratitude practice, here are five ways to get started:
- Start a gratitude journal. Just five minutes at the start or end of each day can cultivate this practice for you. We’ve listed off 50 prompts (and a thank you note challenge) to get you started here!
- Write a gratitude letter to yourself. For yourself, try something like “Future Me,” which allows you to write a letter to yourself and set it up to send 1, 3, or 5 years in the future. What is something you’re grateful for today that you want to remember in 2023? The act of writing a letter or not helps us shift our emotions to focus on the positive.
- Get involved in your community, and volunteer your time to help others. Getting outside of ourselves and taking action is a good way to appreciate those around us. Take an hour this weekend to look into local organizations that share your values that you may be able to volunteer or work with going forward.
- Try the Confidently app, where gratitude is part of the “Thrive” area — making it a core part of living more confidently. Download the app here or in the app store on your phone for goal setting, reflective journaling, quests, and more!
- Try the Thank You Note Challenge below!
The Thank You Note Challenge
Beyond writing in our gratitude journals, studies have shown that giving gratitude to others is one of the best things we can do for our mental health and resilience. Texts, emails, phone calls, or even little gifts are all great ways to give thanks.
And to help you take your gratitude off the page and into the real world, we’ve created the Thank You Note Challenge.
Challenges are clear, small actions that you practice for a set amount of time in order to build a habit. In order to build our gratitude habit this month, we’re going to practice reaching out and thanking people — with actual thank you notes.
Here’s how it works — every morning, for the next two weeks, start the day with these three questions:
1) Who’s a person you’re feeling grateful for today?
I’m feeling grateful for my significant other who I know will love and support me no matter what happens.
2) Why are you feeling grateful for this person?
Because while the external world feels crazy, I know I can depend on this person.
3) How will you express your gratitude to this person today?
I’ll make them their favorite dessert, with a little “thank you” note telling them why I’m thankful for them.
And that’s it! The thank you notes can be physical, virtual (via email or text) or through the phone. We’re using “thank you notes” as a way to encapsulate the act of reaching out and clearly expressing to another person why you’re grateful for them.
Who can you choose? Anyone! They can be a team member, coach, family member, friend, or even a manager. Anyone who inspires you to feel gratitude and optimism.
The message should share why you appreciate them in general, rather than for one specific thing. Examples include, “I’m grateful for all the funny videos you send my way,” or “I appreciate how you always push me to learn new skills.”
Written or spoken expressions of gratitude fuel our system to thrive and increase our overall confidence. And, as a bonus, they make other people feel pretty good as well.
Start tomorrow — put a reminder in your phone or email, and as soon as you wake up, warm up your attitude of gratitude with a thank you note.
I’ll be doing this so my gratitude practice gets a running start into 2021 — whatever that year holds!