Mostly, I love my life. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be alive, to build relationships, to learn, to grow, and to be challenged. But I don’t always feel that way.
Only recently have I been able to find something to be grateful for even in the midst of a hard situation. The reality for all of us is that there are seasons in life—and some are much more difficult than others. But I believe it is possible (and beneficial) to consistently feel gratitude, even during the more challenging seasons.
I’m in one such season right now. 2015 has been a tough year. I have struggled, both personally and professionally, and often, I feel desperate to get to the other side of it. To feel effortlessly happy and grateful. Because isn’t it nice when things are effortless? The problem with that is that they rarely are. Life gets hard, of course, but I think most of us would rather thrive than just merely survive.
Being grateful in the midst of challenging seasons is the way to do just that. Gratitude keeps us from remaining mired in the hard times, in the problems we can’t yet solve, or in the unfairness or overwhelm. Being grateful reminds us of just how much life is worth living, even when it’s hard, and of how much life loves us no matter the circumstance.
I have been working hard to be grateful every day of this year—and when I do, I’m so much more confident in my ability to overcome the challenges I’m facing. If you’re finding that you’re in a similarly challenging spot in life and having a hard time finding the good (ANY good), I get it. And I’m happy to share what has been working for me.
I hope it works well for you, too.
Don’t Avoid It
I will start with this. Don’t try to ignore or avoid your pain, futilely attempting to fill your mind with faux gratitude that might mask any feelings of hurt. Spoiler alert: it won’t. Gratitude doesn’t make the pain go away. Pain demands to be felt, and the only way past it, is through it.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that hardship and gratitude are mutually exclusive. They are not. They co-exist—they always have and they always will. We can only know beauty because we have known pain, right? What gratitude can do is make the journey through the challenge easier, gentler, more bearable. When we recognize what we can give thanks for, even in the midst of hardship, we’re better able to find our way through.
Pick One Thing
Instead of overwhelming yourself with the thought that you must overcome the emotional weight of your challenges and slap on an (inauthentically) happy face, cut yourself some slack. Life is hard and sometimes there’s little, if anything, that we feel grateful for. So make it easy on yourself, and resolve to just pick one thing to be thankful for. We all have one thing. Maybe it’s the smell of your puppy’s breath as he laps at your face, maybe the book you’ve been dying to read is finally available at the library, maybe the skies are overcast and the air is cool after weeks of incessant heat. (That’s one thing I’m grateful for today.)
There are little, often overlooked things that we can be grateful for—and it’s easy to forget about them when life is hard. I get that. So, pick just one thing and give thanks for that today. Tomorrow, you can pick one more. I ask no more of you than that—though I’ve found that picking one thing often reminds you of another, and another, and another . . . Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Try to do this both literally and figuratively. When we’re going through hard times, it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by emotion — fear, sadness, anger, you name it. One of the best ways to remove yourself from the incessant loop of despair is to get outside of yourself for a minute. And the best way to do that? Literally, go outside.
Take a walk around your neighborhood (or explore a new one!), go for a hike, or simply sit in a nearby park. By removing yourself from your familiar environment, you can remove yourself from familiar thought loops and develop new — hopefully, more positive — thought patterns. Allow your mind to drift to the good around you — anything from the sandwich you ate for lunch to the air you breathe in and out. If only for a few moments, get outside of yourself and your current situation and give thanks for this escape.
Focus On Reality
Sit your butt down and meditate. I know, I know, meditation seems to be the new cure-all for everything (and, ahem, it is — though it isn’t new). By focusing on the present moment, it becomes easier to see your present reality: yes, life is complicated, but it is also beautiful. It is never just one or the other. Cultivate your awareness of this regularly by sitting in meditation.
Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about getting comfortable with it. You’ll see that your varying thoughts and emotions are just that — thoughts and emotions. They are not you, and often, they are not indicative of your actual experience in the present moment, but you may not notice that, unless you take the time to be still and focus on what is real. Notice your thoughts, actively feel your emotions, and recognize that we, each and every one of us, always have something in each moment to be grateful for.
See the Value
Can you see the value in your challenging experience? This one is tough, I’ll grant you that. I certainly struggle with this one the most. But here is the reality of life: every challenge we go through has a purpose. Every hardship, every mistake, every tragedy is meant to teach us something and move us further along our life’s journey. So, ask yourself: Is there a lesson to be learned here; an opportunity for growth?
What if you switched the narrative from, “Why is this happening to me?” to “Thank you so much for this experience; it is helping me to learn _____” (and really mean it). What shifts do you feel? Ask yourself truly: What will I get from this? For there is always something valuable to be gained through hardship (as difficult as it can be to see when we’re stuck in it) — and that is something to be thankful for.
I get it. Life is hard a lot of the time.
But I know it’s possible to face life’s difficult moments while simultaneously giving thanks for the good. And, continuously recognizing the inherent and consistent good in our lives is one of the best ways I know to move through the bad.
So, what’s good in your life today? Share what you’re grateful for in the conversation box below!
P.S. Thank you for reading. I’m so grateful for you.
Photo by Matt Jones