Practicing Gratitude Through Hardship

undefinedWhen you’re going through a challenging season, especially if it pertains to a painful shift in family dynamic, it can be easy to allow feelings of anger, sadness, defeat, or regret to make themselves at home at the forefront of your mind. If you’re not careful, your focus on the aspects of life that you feel robbed of, whether it be people, opportunities or sense of happiness, can make it challenging to feel a sense of gratitude for the good happenings, and the sweet moments, that may still be unfolding around you.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, people are often challenged to take a step back and assess what they have to be grateful for in life. Through the hustle and bustle of life, and in the face of hardship, it can be easy to lose sight of the good works and little moments that bring you happiness that are still at play in your life.

According to Robert Emmons, author of “Gratitude Works!”, practicing gratitude under a crisis situation is when you truly have the most to gain.

“In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times,” says Emmons.

It’s important to remember that acknowledging gratitude in the face of hardship does not negate your heartache. The two can coexist in a complicated but beautiful way. To be able to understand that life is hard and at times unfair, but that despite these afflictions, we still have the power to practice the act of giving thanks regardless of the circumstances that life throws at us, is a powerful revelation, and one that can completely rewire the way we view our days.

According to Emmons, it’s imperative to make the distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. While a feeling is something that we don’t necessarily have the power to switch on and off, we do have the power to practice acts of gratitude, which in turn can have a direct effect on our feelings and emotions.

“Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances,” says Emmons.

So what can you do to practice gratitude this holiday season?

There are certain tactics that can help you adopt a grateful attitude and mindset. A simple but effective method is to start each morning writing down three things that you’re grateful for. To do this, you’ll need to reflect on your life and identify what exactly you feel thankful for. These can be broad or specific, and can change every day. Perhaps one day you’re feeling grateful for a family-members health or the roof over your head, and the next you’re feeling grateful for a text message you received from a friend or the opportunity to relax and sip a glass of wine while watching your favorite show. Odds are, if you really sit down and assess what you do have in life, rather than what you don’t have, you’ll recognize that there is good in the big and the small aspects of daily life.

In addition to starting a gratitude journal, you can practice the following:

  • When a stressful situation occurs, consider what lesson you can take away from it, rather than just the stress itself
  • Challenge yourself to cut out criticism of yourself or others for a period of time, and see how it affects your view
  • Share your gratitude! If you’re feeling grateful for somebody in your life, let them know! Whether it be via a letter, a text message, a phone call, or a passing comment, expressing gratitude for those in your life will make it all the more tangible for you, and will likely mean a great deal to them. Gratitude is contagious, especially when shared with others!
  • Keep a gratitude list at work of how your coworkers blessed you, taught you a lesson or challenged you in a positive way
  • Focus on acts of service. Giving back to others is an outward expression of gratitude, and takes the focus off of yourself. Whether it be taking someone out for dinner, babysitting for a friend, leaving a great review online for a business you enjoyed, or just sending a kind text message, these acts of service are a great way of displaying your gratitude.

If you’re walking through this holiday season with a heavy heart, remember that practicing acts of gratitude can help so shift your perspective on life, and instill hope in your day-to-day.