NNSTOY Logo

Humor and Microblessings: Getting to Gratitude in Dark Times

Gratitude is probably the number one topic talked about, posted about, and thought about during the month of November. We even devote an entire holiday to celebrating its meaning. But lately it is a topic that can elicit a range of responses, from “It’s essential to happiness, always keep it in your heart!” to the unspoken but definitely felt “I’m so tired of Pollyanna posts right now, I just might barf!” But what happens when both of those statements are currently your reality? Can opposing statements about gratitude be true in moments of extreme struggle? Particularly the struggle we are facing so deep into the COVID-19 crisis and 2020 as a whole?

I have been wrestling with this concept lately because there are very few people in my life that I can comfortably admit this to: as the stress and complications in my life mount, I often find myself in the camp of the latter of these two responses. This is mainly because, even as a fully formed adult who actually knows better, I still struggle with the concept of caring what others think of me, therefore admitting that I’m not in a state of gratitude would be grounds for judgment, or at least that’s what I tell myself. As a consequence, I often downplay the struggles I am facing in my own life because I don’t want to be viewed as ungrateful for the gifts I do have, because I am grateful. I am deeply grateful. But I am also, like many teachers right now,  struggling in several areas of life.

And in times of great struggle it can often be difficult to live in a place of 100% gratitude.

So what should we do? Personally, I go straight for the social media teacher accounts that reflect my innermost thoughts about the frustrations of teaching, being trapped in meetings, or simply living life in 2020. These accounts (run by people I don’t know but secretly want to be friends with) are done with the most delightful sense of dark humor. Like the post I saw about buying bottles of water that consisted of “teacher tears” for $1.29. If you zoom in on the picture, its slogan under the price states, “Enjoy the salty goodness of human suffering!” Or another post which simply states, “2020 is almost over; we’re in the homestretch now!” with a picture of a dangerous and rickety bridge over raging waters.

Those posts make me laugh, sometimes a little too much, so I then have to forward them to that tight circle of teacher friends I mentioned earlier. And because these accounts exist in the first place, often gathering thousands of likes, it reminds me in a very twisted but familiar way, that I am not alone. I feel there must be many of us for whom dark humor, particularly teacher dark humor, will allow for a moment of release. Perhaps with recognition of this, we can find our way back to gratitude, joy, and the positive things in life. Medical research shows us that the endorphin release that comes after a deep belly laugh, or a laugh that comes from a place that reinforces the knowledge that we aren’t the only ones struggling with a particular issue, ultimately puts us in a better place to receive the good.

I think one of the reasons life is so hard to navigate right now is because COVID has hit so many areas of our lives all at once--and hit them hard. Often when we struggle in life it might only be in one area. Troubles at home? Thank goodness we can go to work, where our students are fantastic! Troubles at work? Good thing we can go out with friends to have a bite to eat and a drink on Friday evening to let off some steam! But what’s happening right now is that most areas of our lives are being stressed at the exact same time. And stress, like energy, is palpable and transfers from one place to another at lightning speed.

 So what do we do?

It’s literally a survival game right now for millions around the world. We do know that gratitude is one of the most important ways not only to survive difficult times, but to come out on the other side as human beings more deeply grounded in what  matters most. But how do we get from A to B if we’re in a particularly dark space at the moment?

Well, I just admitted that I, along with my closest teacher friends, really enjoy the “dark times call for dark humor” approach, but I know that sometimes life is so turbulent that even humor isn’t an option, and for that I have the dreaded Pollyanna approach that the more cynical readers predicted I would eventually get around to.

The other day, on my way to get another COVID test before my third surgery in under a year, I was in a particularly anxious mood. I had what seemed like 1000 responsibilities all coming due at the same time, and I was bemoaning the heavy traffic I was in, just hoping I would make it to my appointment on time. As I cursed the car in front of me for going so slowly, I was momentarily stopped when I looked over and saw a muralist painting his work on the side of a building.

Snapped out of my snarky, ill-tempered mood, I immediately lit up; I honked my horn and started to wave at the artist. He smiled and waved back. Now you should know I love the street art scene around my city, and seek it out regularly for weekend adventures. So to see one of these big murals being painted in “real time” made me feel as though I was now a small part of the genesis of this piece of art which would bring joy to the many people who would eventually pass by. The light turned green and he was in my rearview mirror within a few seconds. And when I glanced at my reflection after I passed him by, I noticed I had a huge smile on my face. I had gone from totally stressed and upset to smiling and filled with joy--in less than 60 seconds. I then went into teacher mode with myself (does anyone else have “teacher moments” with themselves when deep things happen?) and I laughed at how easily my mood had shifted. And although totally cliched and Pollyannaish, I reminded myself that I need to look for the small moments in life which bring joy.

In fact, a question came to me as I continued my drive to the clinic that day--what if I chose to call these moments in my life microblessings? I have never heard that term before, but I thought it encapsulated the meaning of “looking for the small joys in life” into a single word. I told myself that if that artist was still there after my appointment, I would stop and say how grateful I was to see him working on this piece. Sure enough, on my way back he was still there, and I did get to thank him and snap a quick picture. It turns out he has painted several  pieces that I have personally sought out over the years--a connection that in retrospect does not seem random.

So while life is still giving us many things to fret over as we cross that rickety old bridge into 2021, I wish you many deep belly laughs (particularly if they come from humorous teacher posts) and I also wish you an abundance of microblessings (and macroblessings for that matter) that will hopefully highlight the importance of gratitude--even in the dark times.

*Pictured above: Ignacio Garcia-Muralist


Dawn MacFarland has 20 years of service in the classroom to military-connected students and families through DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity). She began her teaching career in Arizona, and has taught in London, England, Cuba, and Germany. Ms. MacFarland’s lifelong commitment is dedicated to educating the whole child—mind and heart.  Her career is cultivated by a mindset that looks beyond typical markers of student success and dives deeper into areas of long-term student development and growth.  Her entire concept of teaching revolves around the idea that in education, as in life, leaders need to build relationships and create climates of security in order to get the best out of the communities they serve.   Ms. MacFarland was a DoDEA Teacher of the Year finalist in 2020 and is the DoDEA Europe East Teacher of the Year. She is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), and you can follow her on Twitter @MindandHeartEDU.





© 2017 NNSTOY, All Rights Reserved
Website by David Taylor Design | NJ Website Design Company