Is Quarantine Giving us All a Lesson in Gratitude?

Craving Comfort

I can remember most of the amazing comforts, treats, and coping mechanisms that I would crave most during trying times in my life. My situation in life has at various times forced me to go without various things for a multitude of reasons. While cutting weight for my first North American Grappling Association tournament I went without food period. During my days as a crossfit competitor who drank the paleo Kool-aid, it was going without carbs. Then came the litany of things I went without during my time in the Marine Corps.

For some reason, while cutting weight or following a strict diet I always seemed to crave taco bell. At those times I thought I was being tested, and that I was treating myself to a cheesy gordita crunch with extra spicy sauce. Then I felt real pain. Nights out in the tree-line in sub-freezing and at times subzero temperatures. Days without a moment to myself. Weeks without showers and only eating MREs. Needless to say, bowl movements were few and far between at the end of those stints.

The TV in the Background Analogy

The cravings at those times were things I thought about only briefly. Yet, I tried very hard not to dwell on them for too long out of a fear of softening. Craving the warmth of a bed while trying to sleep at night on ground that is frozen solid is rarely good for the brain. It was as if the thoughts of what I desired loomed in the background of my mind. They were more like the TV at the bar playing the sports game I was not interested in as opposed to the person I was having a conversation with. Background noise that I was aware of yet, I refrained from allowing it to fully consume my attention.

Then, I would return. I would come back home, or end my diet, finish my competition. It was as if the closer I got to the end of the challenge consuming me the volume on the tv increased more and more and the game became something you could not look away from. A match that culminated in double overtime or penalty kicks. It didn’t matter what distractions would arise, that same force that existed within me and allowed me to ignore the tv also allowed me to focus solely on my desires and drown out everything else.

My cravings and focus were always drawn to the opposite of whatever deprivation I had faced recently. After coming home from Jordan I drank an entire pot of coffee and ate an entire package of bacon once in the confines of my home. The cold always ended in a hot shower and a night of sleeping in and under more layers and blankets than necessary. I always knew what was coming the moment I got home and the volume of desire playing in the background would increase.

Here we are today and I’m sure many of us know exactly what that thing is we will not take for granted once this quarantine is over. I’m sure for most it has to do with the friends and family that just don’t look the same over a screen. It’s the restaurant or bar you love to go to that may have great takeout right now, but the atmosphere was always what drew you in anyway. For some of us it may be solitude. For others it is community. Whatever it is I am sure you have a thought in your mind of what you miss most and hope to indulge in as soon as possible.

I hope that you heed my words when I say that you can and must take the time right now to cement this feeling into your soul. Consider the pain of the deprivation that you feel and force it to make you grateful for all of the things you once took for granted in life.

Forgetting Pain is in Our DNA

If you don’t, I can promise you that one day you will forget this pain and you will return to taking the things you love most in life for granted. How do I know? Well first of all, our ability to forget pain is a part of our DNA. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky proved it in their study of Peak-End rule (more on that here). More importantly thought I have experienced it myself. During my time as an infantry officer I very frequently would be back home watching people lose their shit over the simplest mistakes. For some reason my focus was always drawn into the way that people would freak out if their order got messed up at Starbucks.

I would love to watch people explode about the fact that they received a latte with soy instead of almond milk or what have you. I would pity them for their inability to realize that their comfort level in life had grown so high, that they failed to realize that they were able to afford a 3 dollar cup of coffee in the first place. Many of us fail to realize that the fact that we can walk about freely to the coffee place is a gift in itself, until now. Then one day a few years later I was in a rush to get to class when I put in an order at Starbucks via my mobile app for a black coffee to pick up on the way to class. I was on a tight timeline so I couldn’t afford to wait in line.

I arrived only to fine that the Barista had forgotten my order. It took everything I had not to blow up on this college kid making coffee. I was incensed and outraged. A day later I reflected on this moment and I was so disappointed in myself. Had my level of comfort grown so high that I failed to appreciate all that I had? Yes it had. Now, in many situations this is a place where an individual tells you some awesome story about how this was the moment in life when they cast aside the expectations of society and followed a new path.

Taking Action

I had already done that when I graduated college and signed up to be a Marine. Instead I chose to start practicing as much gratitude as possible. I began ensuring I was as thankful as I could be for all of the things I had in my life even if it was only food, shelter, and water. Ben Bergeron, famed coach of some of the fittest people on earth has a practice he and his family engage in every day. Every single person at dinner in Ben’s house states three things they are thankful for, one thing they did very well that day, and one thing they could do better.

This is how they practice gratitude for all that they have. It’s also a great starting question for journaling. What am I grateful for? I think that everyone who reads this should take the time to journal the three things they will not take for granted after being quarantined. Write a compelling argument for why you won’t take them for granted and store it away. Months from now when you’re about to blow up on the barista who forgot your order, grab that journal and flip to that page. I promise you won’t give a shit about your coffee.

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About the Author

John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.

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