How to cultivate gratitude during difficult times—and why it can make us all feel better

Ryan Fehr

During the COVID-19 crisis, orders to shelter in place and practice social distancing can leave us more prone to focus on ourselves. But during times of high anxiety such as these, it’s actually more important than ever to think of others.

This according to Ryan Fehr, an associate professor of management and Michael G. Foster Endowed Fellow at the UW Foster School of Business. Fehr is also a world-renowned expert on gratitude—which is a virtuous force in good times, and may have even more positive power in bad times.

“During a difficult time, gratitude is more important than ever,” he says. “Research shows that gratitude can help us cope with traumatic events, regulate our negative emotions, and improve our well-being. More importantly, gratitude can have a positive effect on our friends and family, too. It’s a small way to have a meaningful impact.”

Fehr recommends steps that you can take to cultivate gratitude this week:

Fehr’s five steps to gratitude in tough times

Step 1: Put your gratitude on paper
Write down the names of three people or things in your life you are grateful for, and why.

Step 2: Have a gratitude conversation
Have a conversation with a friend, family member or coworker to share what you’re most grateful for.

Step 3: Tell someone you appreciate them
Identify a specific person in your life and tell them why you are grateful for them over phone or video chat.

Step 4: Pay it forward
Find a way to show your gratitude to someone in your life by helping them in some small way.

Step 5: Reflect and repeat
Take a few moments to reflect on how your gratitude exercises went and commit to at least one act of gratitude every week.

For additional resources to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, Fehr recommends visiting the Greater Good Science Center site, which contains a wealth of research-backed information on maintaining well-being and building connections with others during this difficult time.

If you’d like to learn more about Fehr’s work on gratitude in the workplace, check out this webinar: