How to invite more grateful thinking in our self-talks and conversations to cope with the social isolation

This Tuesday, March the 24th, I took my kids for a bike ride around the neighbourhood. It was a sunny but windy day in Helsinki. There were 10 meters wind per second. A plastic bag and a magazine were swerved by gusts of wind from the sidewalk to the street and back to the sidewalk.  

The streets were empty. Every now and then, we would bike past by some pedestrian or another biker. I felt a mix of nostalgia and gratitude. I am the kind of person that I used to feel good seeing people in the streets. When someone would look in my eyes, I used to feel joyful for a transient connection. I used to enjoy hearing voices and seeing clutter in the restaurant on our street. The restaurant was empty that day. On the other hand, I felt grateful that people are staying indoors.  

Gratitude has been on my mind more than ever. Feeling sincere appreciation of the wonderful people and projects in my life. Deep reverence for life itself. After 14 days of self-isolation, one of the best outcomes is an increased ability to be present in the simple moments of the day, like baking home bread.  

Have you noticed any changes in your ability to feel grateful since the outbreak of coronavirus?  

Grateful thinking comes more naturally to some of us. Some others have to make a bit of an effort. In moments of uncertainty, it’s beneficial for all of us to invite more grateful thoughts in our self-talk and conversations. Here’s why. According to positive psychology researchers, there are at least three benefits:

  1. Gratitude is a skill that can help us become aware of the kindness, help, love, opportunities that come from outside us, from the environment where we live. The more goodness we perceive around, the higher the sense of physical and psychological safety
  2. Robert Emmons, a scientific expert in gratitude, describes gratitude as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it helps us see how we are supported and validated by others.
  3. Gratitude makes us more resilient. Now when we are in one of the worst times for this generation, every little thought of appreciation of what is, can foster our emotional resilience.

There are 4 levels of depth in grateful thinking. Let’s go through each one of them and see where you find yourself at the moment. 

1. In the same way I felt grateful for my neighbours who self-isolated themselves, maybe you are silently observing the good things that others do for you – family members and friends. More than quietly acknowledging their contribution in your days, in what ways do you show you appreciate them? Like explicitly thanking them for doing a particular thing for you? For instance, as we parked our bikes in the bike shed, I thanked my kids for joining me on the trip. I specifically told them that their company warmed my heart. 

Are you feeling grateful for the positive events that happen for you now? A friend of mine mentioned that after a week in isolation she started to feel good about her time at home, with her family. It dawned upon her that she actually needed a break. Yet, being the empathetic woman that she is, she felt guilty over feeling that staying home was beneficial for her.

Nobody wanted the coronavirus outbreak. Staying at home started as an imposed action for my friend, who initially felt it as a punishment or as a conspiracy against her plans. If you are like her and you are growing aware of the need to slow down, how about allowing yourself to connect with yourself and your needs. How about giving yourself time to come up with new personal goals? 

However, in case the physical isolation drives you crazy, in the lowest moments of desperation, could you please remember to ask yourself, “What is one good thing that someone did for me today?”. 

Each person brings a hidden gift. Look closer and point out the good things that family and friends do for you. Allow yourself to enjoy the positive things that happen to you as you stay home. This is the first level of gratitude. Do you find yourself here? What other forms of grateful thinking might there be?  

2. Appreciate the good things institutions, communities and societies do for you.

During the coronavirus outbreak, we have opportunities to see clearer the interdependencies of the world. Each one of us, in accordance with our professional roles, can affect the quality of life, the wellbeing, the productivity and innovativeness of others. We all must have experienced the tangible impacts of disrupted services. Like never before, I felt how important the toilet paper production was when I went to the supermarket two days in a row only to find an apology poster where the supermarket personnel wrote that they do their best to bring new supplies every night.

In this web of dependencies, we are like pieces on a chess board. Unlike the classic game, the social game of chess is an agile game of collaboration, where each one of us can change roles and can make unique moves that can help the moves of some other players in the game. The other day I invested in a year long subscription to a poetry magazine. In times of crisis, we may be thinking that we need to keep the expenditures for the strictly necessary needs: food and shelter. And that’s what the artists, poets, writers, need also: food and shelter so that they can keep on creating and feeding our souls. Feeding our souls may be a luxury for some. But for others, it’s a necessity so that we keep on building pockets of energy to cope with the new reality. I thus invested in the poetry magazine as a token of solidarity for the cultural and artistic communities. 

Today I consider investing in a scientific magazine. These are my moves on the chess board. What kind of moves are you considering to make? What are the business activities, big or small, you care about to support by sharing a tiny bit of your income? 

If we can’t offer financial support, what other kinds of support could we offer to institutions and communities we care about?

Let’s think about the medical specialists. In the last few days, this group of professionals have been at the centre of my grateful thinking. The medical doctors, the nurses, the ambulance drivers, the hospital cleaners are exposed to the coronavirus as they are doing their best to take care of the people who were unlucky to get the virus. Do you have friends who have any of these professional roles? 

In what ways could we surprise these people who are now in the front lines of the battle and thus contribute to their wellbeing? They may be hungry. They may be missing their kids.They may feel discouraged. What can we do for them? Other than staying home?

If nothing else, how about praying for them or doing loving kindness meditation? May they be well. May they be healthy. May they have strength.

What is one thing that you’ve recently benefited from society? Observing some good things that institutions and societies do for us. This is the second level of gratitude which may inspire us to take further the ripples of goodness with new acts of kindness of our own. 

3. Accepting that life comes with challenges. Life comes with good and bad moments. Even if it’s hard to accept the bad we’re going through, we can look at the coronavirus disruption as an opportunity to test our integrity and humanity, i.e., controlling our emotions in tense moments; bring in more empathy and compassion to heal others; bring in more creativity in using our skills and competence to contribute to recovery plans and new development projects. The third level of gratitude is about valuing the discovery of the best sides in ourselves when life takes us through thick and thin. What might the fourth level be about?

4. Many of us are likely to experience existential anxiety when we get updated on the coronavirus situation, like the number of victims in Italy, Spain, in the country where we live. When we experience mortality salience, we may see how precious now is. Upon realization of the inevitability of death we may come to terms with the present. The peace may settle when we feel truly lucky to breathe, to love, to suffer, to panic or to hope in this second. This is the fourth level of gratitude when we live in awe of the miracle of life. 

At what level of grateful thinking do you see yourself? As we advance towards the fourth level, we may be noticing a shift in thinking, from “The world owes it to me.” to, “I owe it to the world.”,I owe it to the world to pay attention to the goodness that there is in it.”

I don’t know about you, but upon waking up, I smile to the new day. 

A new day is a gift.

A new day is a sign of generosity. 

A new day is our responsibility to make it worthwhile.  

Special thanks to the programmers and IT experts who work hard to maintain the internet and the online communication. 

Special thanks to groups of professionals, like the individuals in logistics, who continue to work so that our economies and societies can function in crisis.

May you be well. May you be grateful.




The Capacity of Awe in Focus

We are most likely to experience awe when we are faced with a new and unexpected phenomenon, such as thunder, lightning or when we spend time in nature. The emotion of awe has psychological benefits, such as giving us solace in moments of trial. It also has physiological benefits, such as keeping to a healthy level the cytokines, the proteins that help the body cells fight infection. Since feeling awe does wonders to our mind and body, what can help us be more open to awe and what strategies can we adopt to feel awe in our hectic lives?


Can you think of a moment when you saw or heard something which was so unimaginable beautiful and breathtaking that your mind entered a state of stillness? Time stopped ticking and you were overwhelmed with wonder and curiosity. Tears in your eyes, you may have even felt like kneeling down in the midst of the uncanny event. This is how an awe-inspiring experience might be.


The need for beauty – a story of awe


One morning last May, I woke up with the desperate need to see the beauty around me. On the usual way to the playground where I would spend the mornings with my boys, a violet crocus was blooming on the side of the road. My hands hurriedly fumbled for the iPhone in the bag. I asked the boys to wait for three seconds and the first photo of a crocus was joyfully taken.


One month later, my husband gave me as a gift a more professional camera which became my best friend. I started making time in my hectic daily life to stroll around in search of stunning flowers of intense colors and mesmerizing perfumes. Those flowers had been there the previous Springs and Summers but I only noticed them last year. It was such an fascinating discovery for me to observe that there are so many types of tulips, with different shapes of petals.


The camera lens allowed me to go closer than ever to the soul of flowers. I felt reverence to their perfect and symmetric beauty. I was perplexed at the universal intelligence that can create such beauty. I came back home relaxed and with a big smile on my face.


This year, I am much more aware about the beauty of the nature during my usual walks. Flowers, trees, grass, clouds, birds, insects are my companions. Every day, this is a new parade of clouds in the sky. Some flowers wither, some others are ready to blossom. There is life in every one of them and I watch it unfolding.


By now, you might have guessed which is my new hobby. I lose track of time when taking photos of flowers. I feel free and connected to some sort of flower sisterhood. I am in awe!     


What is Awe and why is it so important?


In the Old English, awe was used to express fear and dread. Now, the meaning of awe has evolved to a positive emotion “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear.”, as leading researcher Dacher Keltner describes it. 


In collaboration with researcher Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Dacher Keltner carried out a study to find the location of awe in the brain. The participants of the study were shown a series of slides that evoked sensory pleasure, pride, compassion and awe. While the participants viewed the slides, an fMRI scanner was taking photos of their brains.


The awe slides activated the left orbitofrontal cortex, which is a brain area that is lit when we are physically touched, when we are involved in a goal-oriented action or when we reflect upon our internal experience from a broader perspective. Therefore, it seems that we are wired for awe and feeling awe may change our perspective upon the world.  


Furthermore, research has shown that the experiences of awe can have plenty benefits such as: boost our health, make us live in the present, give us hope and appreciation of life, help us feel connected to nature, create a paradigm-shift, broaden our identity and boost creativity.


The challenge is to be open to awe experiences when they present themselves to us. You can be standing in front of the most spectacular rainbow and yet fail to be touched by it because you either are busy to notice it or if you do notice it, you do not savour the awe-feeling because your mind is churning some urgent issues.


What makes a person be open to awe?    

In 1930, Albert Einstein wrote in his credo

“ He … who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”


Einstein believed in awe.

Mary Oliver, the American poet, believed in awe when she wrote:

“Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled—

to cast aside the weight of facts …”


Kirk Schneider, humanistic psychologist, believes in awe when he writes in his blog post, Ode to Awe:

“Awe is the God beyond God, the origin and the destination, the expanding question and the expanding answer. It is our humility and wonder before creation; our astonishment before creation.”

I believe in awe and if you are reading this post, it is very likely you also believe in it.

The sources of awe-inspiring experiences


In the English Oxford dictionary, awe is

“… caused by profound reverence in the presence of supreme authority, moral greatness or sublimity, or mysterious sacredness.”

As this definition indicates, the belief in awe is rooted in transcendent values such as truth, goodness, and beauty. These three values provide the inner motivation and the need to seek for awe-inspiring experiences in everyday life.

Truth, goodness and beauty are subjective values and precisely the observation of the subjective manifestations of these values can create the awe-inspiring moments in the observer.


Truth may mean faith in God or in a Higher Power that governs this Universe. Truth may mean the physical laws of the Universe. Truth may mean morality and justice of social system. Truth may mean history and a political ideology. Truth may mean pursuit of our goals.    

This was Einstein’s truth as he writes in his Credo:

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.


It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.“


What is your truth?

The subjective truth guides our actions, influences our decisions and perceptions on reality. Each moment when we observe a manifestation of our truth could be an awe-inspiring moment.


Goodness is the second transcendent value which can be the source of awe-inspiring experiences. You do not have to believe in God in order to believe in goodness. Human beings can essentially be kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, generous, as studies at the research center Greater Good Science also show it. Goodness refers to all the qualities and virtues that people reflect in their behaviors.  

For Mary Oliver, the dynamics of nature and the love for parents represent goodness, as she warm-heartedly writes in her poem, “Of Goodness”.

“How good

That the clouds travel, as they do,

Like the long dresses of the angels

Of our imagination,


Or gather in storm masses, then break

With their gifts of replenishment,

How good it is that we travel from one side of the family to the other

On this Thanksgiving weekend


Disappearing fathers on one wing and diminishing mothers on the other

But what I would give to see a teal to deal

With the heartache and the loss

And so on and so on.”

What else does goodness mean to you? Search for goodness in people and when you find it, that goodness will become part of yourself.   


Beauty, the third source of awe, involves ideas of taste, aesthetics and passion in nature, art, music, science, technology, etc. The same properties and sounds of an object in nature or in artistic/scientific/technological works can terrify some of us or make some others stand in awe. The encounter with a snake can make some freak-out and run, whereas others may stand still and observe the snake with fascination.

To Einstein’s mind,

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. … To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.”


Beauty may lie in the expression of emotions captured in a poem, a song or a dance.  

Beauty may mean your passions. What are your passions and how living your passions can be awe-inspiring? For example, if you were passionate about mathematics, a novel mathematical formula could be a source of awe.

What else does beauty mean to you? How important is to surround yourself by beauty?

Eventually, beauty lies in anything that touches us deeply and makes us live for.

Creating awe-experiences in everyday life

In everyday life, it is more challenging to live transformative awe-inspiring experiences, like standing on a mountain top – unless we live near-by mountains. Researcher Rick Hanson suggests that 30 seconds of focus on a good fact, such as a cup of coffee, can be extremely efficient to rewire the brain to remember positive emotions. In a similar line of thought, how can we create some space in our everyday life for awe-inspiring moments? Here are four strategies:

Design your home space – The animators at Pixar, an American computer animation studio, have their offices designed as wooden huts or caves, awe-inspiring symbols. How about designing some awe-inspiring corners in your home? What awe-inspiring objects would you put in those corners? Now and then, change the symbols or the places where those symbols are so that your brains can react to the novelty.  

Listen to a video of an influential person you think highly of – YouTube is an abundant source of talks of talented people in different fields of your interest. Recently, I discovered Jason Silva’s channel Shots of Awe, which I listen to whenever I feel the need to be enlivened. How about you? To whom would you like to listen to sparkle your imagination?

Get into a child-like mind – take some moments to be playful. Play with your kids, your partner, your friends. How would you like a drawing game, for example? Chose a photo of a famous person and draw a caricature.  Who has the funniest drawing? You or your kid? If you like cooking, how about arranging creatively the food on the plates for the people who are going to taste the food? If neither drawing not cooking are your cup of tea, there are so many domains out there for you to choose from and get playful. Playfulness shakes off the jadedness and brings to surface the curiosity to investigate further. Surprise yourself!   

Reorganize your daily life – make a list of your values and describe how these values are reflected in your everyday life. There may be some conflicts between some of your values and daily activities. There may be some values that don’t serve you any good and some activities that don’t reflect your deeply held values. Most importantly, be ready to change for the better version of you. What touches you most in your everyday life? How could you explore it closer and more often? How much time would you need for that? What else do you need to carry out your exploration?

According to Protagoras’ myth about the origins of human beings, Zeus endowed humans with the capacity of awe. Therefore, let’s make the most out of this capacity. We wouldn’t want to make Zeus angry, would we?

If you have a personal awe-story, I’d be glad if you shared it with me, at discoveriesinto(at) With your acceptance, I will publish it on my blog. Awe-stories inspire people, so how would you like to inspire someone with your story?