It’s that time of year when gratitude is top of mind for many. During Thanksgiving month, we see consistent reminders of this word painted on festive candles, hand towels, and other decor. We see it in news headlines and it’s posted all over social media.
As a daily practice, gratitude has been proven to lead to more happiness, fulfillment, and joy. However, when life is difficult due to unwanted change, hardship, news headlines, or loneliness, sometimes feeling thankful for all your have might feel out of reach. More than ever, it’s these times when gratitude is truly essential.
Here are four ways to practice gratitude in difficult times.
Sure, you might have a hard time feeling grateful if you and your partner just broke up, or you didn’t get the promotion you wanted. These are certainly difficult times in life and can result in feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and sadness. However, if you take a moment to reframe the situation and recognize that you still have a good job, and the potential to find a more aligned partner – and aren’t dealing with a terminal illness, or major challenges like homelessness or addiction – reframing in this way might help you recognize the abundance that still exists in your life, despite the challenges. Reframing is putting life into perspective, and recognizing that in the midst of hardship, most people still have a long list of things to appreciate.
Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary
You may go through your day almost numb to all that is around you. As a society, we are overstimulated and live in a state of abundance compared to others around the world. When you can see the ordinary as special, it’s easier to cultivate gratitude. This might be spending a moment to reflect on how beautifully blue the sky is on a particular day, or silently recognizing how fortunate we are to have clean drinking water everywhere we turn. Finding ways to be aware of these ordinary luxuries and having the perspective to recognize them as blessings can make gratitude flow, even when life feels challenging.
Give to Others
It’s a natural human response to feel good when doing good. It lifts spirits. It puts hardship in perspective. It makes you feel more connected. If gratitude feels difficult, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, a youth support facility, community project, or a food bank. When you see the wide variety of hardships your own community experiences, it’s guaranteed to make you feel thankful for what you have and how far you have come in your life. Making this an ongoing commitment can help keep spirits lifted as you have the opportunity to impact others through your goodwill.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
The practice of gratitude would be easier for all if it became more of a daily ritual. A gratitude journal is one way of doing that and spending two minutes a day writing down one to five things that you feel thankful for can have a positive, long-term impact on your health and happiness. If you aren’t a writer, start with just two days a week. Or, pick a different format like using a pack of sticky notes next to a Mason Jar in your kitchen, and spend a minute writing a few key messages of gratitude while you wait for your food to heat in the microwave or coffee to brew. Other ideas for gratitude rituals include picking a time each day to reflect with thanks, whether that be at red traffic lights, before bed with your loved ones, or before each meal. Pick a coordinating event that will remind you to make gratitude a daily practice.
In our work at Center for Shared Insight, we see gratitude playing an important role in happiness. Clients who embrace this practice are often more equipped to overcome challenges and recognize that hardships are often opportunities in disguise. In difficult times, it’s more important than ever to embody gratitude as a way of life, and we hope this Thanksgiving season serves as a reminder of the power of such intentions.