Gratitude: How to be grateful when life is difficult

Gratitude: How to be grateful when life is difficult

Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily grind of life, that stresses overcome us and often the light at the end of the tunnel feels a very long way away. I’m sure we have heard numerous times that we need to ‘be more grateful, look at the positive, and keep a gratitude journal’. However, sometimes life feels so overwhelming this seems like a useless and impossible task. So it is really worth it? Does it really make a difference?

The choice to be grateful

Recently my friend has been recovering from cancer and has gone through a series of surgeries. These surgeries haven’t always been successful, which have led to more surgeries and outcomes that are far from perfect. Did she get down? Yes, of course she did, but she didn’t stay down.

After taking a day to feel sad, my friend looked around her hospital room. She saw one lady who had dementia and recently experienced a stroke; another lady went in for ‘simple’ surgery however ended up with major issues from a ‘nicked’ bladder. In the bed next to my friend was a lady in her 30’s. She was very bubbly and brought a lot of positive energy to the room. My friend and this lady started a friendship immediately. My friend’s mood lifted and she started to feel better. It was after a little while that the other lady told my friend what she was in hospital for; terminal bowel cancer. She also has two small children. This lady brought a level of energy into the hospital that was contagious. She was so thankful for all the wonderful things in her life.

It would have been easy for someone experiencing such unfortunate life circumstances to focus on the negative (let’s be honest, there was lots of that), however she knew she had a choice. She could choose to show gratitude or wallow in the negativity of the ‘hand she had been dealt’. Her choice was gratitude. As a result of this others also benefited from her gratefulness.

We always have a choice. I encourage everyone to ask themselves this simple question, ‘is it helpful or unhelpful’. If it is helpful keep doing it, if it’s unhelpful then stop doing it.

Gratitude improves relationshipsgrateful-snoopy

Gratitude is an essential skill for us as individuals, parents and as partners.

Reflecting on the topic of gratitude, I remember an article I read recently on the Gottman Institute website, so I’ve included an excerpt of this article:

Arthur C. Brooks reminds us that, “for many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult. Even beyond deprivation and depression, there are many ordinary circumstances in which gratitude doesn’t come easily.”

Brooks makes three key points that put it in perspective:

  1. Choosing to be thankful makes us more thankful.  When practicing gratitude our brain releases chemicals that make us less stressed, and in turn, more thankful. Our brain does not distinguish if this gratitude is overwhelming and robust, or simply a new attempt. All that matters is the intentional act of giving thanks. In his research lab, Dr. Gottman discovered that successful couples create a culture of goodwill and purposefully strive to see each other through rose-coloured glasses.
  2. Gratitude positively impacts our relationships. When teaching couples how to communicate effectively, a key element is to avoid criticism and defensiveness. Dr. Gottman and Brooks agree that when you interact with others beginning from a place of gratitude, it lowers their defences, makes them more willing to work together, and generally have a more positive conversation.
  3. Habits of gratitude can start small. Brooks encourages his readers to have “interior gratitude, exterior gratitude, and gratitude for useless things.” The last one is the most interesting and the least difficult. Being thankful for small aspects of our life and our relationships – a cosy jumper, a warm cup of hot chocolate, the comfort of holding hands.

As we start to express gratitude, the comment won’t always be automatic, or realistic, but it does help frame the day in a whole new way.

If you would like to read the full article by Taylor Moss you can find it on the Gottman Institute website.

gratitude-christmas-2Grateful at Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful time to practice gratitude, even when we might be experiencing grief or difficult times. Rather than focusing on what we don’t have we could benefit from paying attention to what we do have. Examples of some things we might focus on and be thankful for this Christmas might include; health, family, beliefs, country, business opportunities, friendships, home, lifestyle, rain, freedom, independence.

So in conclusion, if you are still dubious as to whether being thankful will make you feel more gratitude and happier, then give it a go for a week. A behavioural experiment; one week of starting each day thinking of 10 things we are thankful for (writing them down will be even more powerful and reinforcing). At first this will be difficult, we might also need to be somewhat creative. If you feel better after the week, keep doing it.

Written by Judy Travis

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