What to Do When Gratitude Is Difficult

Health Writer

Sometimes, being grateful is hard. We’ve all been through challenging times. Maybe you are going through one now. You lost a loved one, are going through divorce, your adult child moved across the country, a close friend or relative is very ill, you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, you lost your job or your boss is such a miserable person that you dread going to work each day. During challenging times, being grateful is hard. You feel awful and want to continue to feel awful. You don’t want to be thankful, you would much rather break something.

During trying times, gratitude can be quite elusive. We feel like once things get better, once this problem is solved, we can be grateful. Usually, though, another problem crops up and we delay gratefulness once again. However, gratefulness becomes even more important when life isn’t going your way. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who writes and speaks about gratefulness, put it this way, “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

Numerous studies have linked the daily practice of gratitude to a higher level of happiness, greater satisfaction with life, improved health, stronger relationships and a better ability to deal with adversity. The following are tips to practicing gratitude during the tough times.

Look for small reasons to be grateful

No matter what your situation, there is probably some small glimmer of good that can change your focus. You might be thankful that that sky is blue, it is a nice day, that you have a meal to eat or someone to share a meal with; you might be thankful you have two legs to walk on or that you have the sight to see the blue sky. You might simply be thankful that you are breathing. One small reason can grow into more grateful thoughts.

Consider how not-so-good situations have turned out for the best in the past

Maybe you have lost your job but it gives you the opportunity to find one you like better. Maybe you can’t pay your bills and are forced to look for community resources that can help you, giving you the chance to start again. Maybe you have lost someone you love and must be content with being grateful for the time you had together. Many times in life situations that started out looking very bleak have ended with opportunity.

Keep track of the little things and write them down

Write down what you are grateful for, even if you start small. Use an app on your phone, keep a list on your refrigerator or someone else you will see it each day. Every day add one thing you are grateful for in your life. As you write down one thing, read over your list. This helps you remember the good things in your life.

Stop once a day, look around, and tell yourself what makes you thankful

Some people find it difficult to keep up a gratitude journal each day (and then belittle themselves for not keeping up). Don’t worry, reciting it in your head works too. The point is to slowly start changing your perspective from despair to gratefulness.

Enlist the help of friends or social media

Some find they are more disciplined when they join a “gratitude challenge” on Facebook or Twitter and each day for 21 days post one thing they are thankful for.

Close your eyes, and take some deep breaths

Think of the people and things in your life. Which ones bring you a feeling of gladness or appreciation? When this happens, you might notice that your negative thoughts disappeared, even if it was only for a split second. Remember what made you feel that way, it is one thing you are grateful for.

The bottom line

For some people, gratitude seems to come naturally. They are easily able to look for the “silver lining” in any situation; they seem to exude gratefulness. For others though, being thankful is hard work - you need to work at it. As with everything, with practice it does become easier. It takes just a few minutes a day to start, and you can do it anywhere. Commit to focusing on being grateful for five minutes a day and keep it up for the next 30 days. You just might notice that you feel better.

See more helpful articles:

10 Reasons to Be Thankful for Chronic Illness

Gratitude Journaling for Depression

Why Mood Improves with an Attitude of Gratitude