5 Habits That Will Help You Find Gratitude in Trying Times
Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.– Larissa Gomez
When I looked in the mirror in front of me, all I could see was a sunken face enveloped by a few pathetic strands of hair—the rest all but gone under the siege of chemotherapy.
The Gollum. I sighed.
I reminded myself of the Gollum.
The instructor began to pass out sandwiches and small bags of makeup to each girl around the table. Some of them as young as 15. I was the oldest at 19.
We were all together for a charity event for young women affected by cancer. We get free makeup, free food, and learn a few tips about how to use makeup to liven up our battle-weary faces. But most of all, we get a night of reprieve from the starkness of our reality.
First, we put on foundation, then blush. Next, we began to work on our eyes. That was when I noticed it. My discovery was so insignificant and yet so remarkable at the same time.
I still had my lashes and eyebrows. And they were not merely existing, but thriving.
The discovery made me gasp with delight.
Why hadn’t I noticed this before?
Finding them filled me with an inexplicable sense of joy—something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Suddenly, the fact that I was practically bald weighed less. My cancer diagnosis hurt less. And my life seemed to suck less.
I felt thankful—thankful for these tiny treasures I still had, even though they seemed so small.
That was the first time I experienced the magic of gratitude—something I had always heard before but never truly understood. Gratitude would go on to become a key part of my healing process and help me through those dark days, as well as the even darker nights to come.
But it wasn’t easy maintaining a grateful attitude when I wasn’t used to having it—especially during a difficult time in my life.
So how did I do it?
I started practicing 5 habits of grateful people.
And I promise to show you what they are in a few moments, but first, let’s look at why you need gratitude in your life—in the good times and the bad.
Especially the bad.
How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times
Why is being grateful so important, especially when you’re going through a tough time in your life?
Well, first of all, gratitude is linked to improved physical health.
And why does this matter?
Well, when you feel good physically, not only will you have more energy and stamina to handle the extra load of stress, your sense of well-being will improve too.
If you’ve ever had a bad case of the flu you’ll know what I mean. When your body stops working the way it should, the whole world seems to fall sideways. You feel enshrouded in a dark fog that you just can’t muster the energy to break. But as soon as you’re on the mend, all’s right as rain once again.
So if you’re going through a stressful time right now, it’s more imperative than ever to pay attention to your physical health. Exercise and a good diet are important no doubt, but so is having an attitude of gratitude.
And furthermore, gratitude has been shown to have a lasting positive effect on those who struggle with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Even a simple gratitude journaling practice can lift our spirits up in the short run and make us more receptive to gratitude in the long run.
So if you’re having a hard time coping with the chaos of life, a dose of gratitude may be one of the best natural remedies you’ll find.
I know what you must be thinking:
It’s easy to feel grateful when life’s going well. How do you make yourself feel grateful when everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong?
I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy cultivating gratitude when your life’s a mess, but it’s not impossible either.
And here are 5 habits that will help you do just that.
How to Be Grateful When Life is Hard: 5 Habits to Help You Cultivate Gratitude
1. Make an Effort to Notice the Good
When life’s not going well, you feel like nothing good ever happens to you. But is that really true?
Take my story at the beginning of this article, for example.
Why hadn’t I noticed the very obvious fact that I still had my eyebrows and lashes? Because I was preoccupied with everything that was going wrong in my life to see them.
The experience taught me this valuable lesson:
You can’t appreciate what you have if you don’t notice them.
If we all took a few minutes each day to really notice the good things that we have, the good things that happen to us, and the good people we have around us, then we’ll see that we have an abundance of “good” in our life.
So make an effort to notice. Look up from your phone for a few moments. Stop complaining for a few moments. Forget everything that’s going wrong for a few moments, and just notice.
2. Learn to Reframe Bad Situations
Research shows that the practice of reframing has an intricate relationship with gratitude and mental health.
But what, exactly, is reframing?
Think back to the last time you played with a camera. I bet you looked through its lens at an object from different angles, trying to find the most pleasing perspective.
Reframing is much like playing with a camera—except you look at a situation from different angles using your mind’s lens, trying to find the most pleasing perspective—one that will help you feel at peace with what happened instead of angry or sad.
For example, if you didn’t get the job you really wanted, instead of looking at the situation as an “utter disappointment” or “total failure”, you can reframe the situation to look at it as an opportunity to brush up on your current skills or expand your knowledge. It could also be a chance to reassess your goals and your priorities.
The key is to not accept the first impression (probably a negative one) you have about something bad that has happened to you as the only interpretation of the situation. Always ask yourself: What’s another way of looking at what happened?
I admit it wasn’t easy trying to reframe the predicament I found myself in with my illness. Let’s face it, cancer sucks. Really sucks. But with patience, reflection, and practice, I did eventually find another perspective–and indeed, a more positive one:
Having cancer taught me valuable life lessons that would have taken me probably another few decades to learn.
It also made me realize my own strength, empowered me to believe in the power of hope, and opened my eyes to what really matters in life. Had I not had cancer at the height of my youth, I wouldn’t be as comfortable with myself as I am today. I wouldn’t feel this deep sense of peace in my heart knowing the fact that no matter what I encounter in the future, I already have what it takes to face it.
Now it’s your turn to try reframing. Think of a bad experience you had lately, what’s another, more positive way of looking at it?
3. Adjust Your Expectations
If you don’t feel very grateful for what you have in life, your expectations may be to blame.
Turns out, great expectations are not so great.
I used to have all these expectations about what “should” happen in my life and what people “should” do for me.
I didn’t feel particularly thankful when my expectations were met. After all, they “should” have been right?
And if my expectations weren’t met, I’d feel disappointed, sometimes even angry. I’d feel like I didn’t get what I deserved, and it was unfair.
I had the expectation that my mother “should” take care of me during my illness. I would be upset whenever she couldn’t stay by my side during tough procedures because she had to work.
I had the expectation that my boyfriend “should” come to visit me as often as he could while I was sick. I would feel resentful whenever he chose to do something else other than keeping me company.
And I had the expectation that my body “should” be able to recover as fast as other patients my age. I would feel incredibly frustrated whenever test results showed that my progress was slow.
This mindset made me quite unhappy at times, and not to mention, caused tension in my relationships too.
But once I learned to adjust my expectations—to stop filling my world with “should’s”—I started to gain more gratitude.
I began to feel grateful for all the things my mother—a single, working mother—did for me my whole life—especially during my illness.
I began to feel grateful for the time my boyfriend could spend with me while I was sick. I viewed every minute we could be together as a bonus rather than a given.
And I began to feel grateful for my body, even though it wasn’t healing as fast as I wanted it to. I was alive, and that was enough.
So adjust your expectations, and you will feel happier and more grateful.
4. Celebrate the Little Things
When you’re able to celebrate the little things in life, your heart will blossom with gratitude. Even in the darkest storms of your life, you will be able to see rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds.
But I didn’t always know how to appreciate the little things in life. It wasn’t until after I got my cancer diagnosis when I started to see how seemingly trivial things like a nice shower, a good joke, and a great song on the radio can all make my heart rejoice—if I choose to let them.
These little things kept my world from turning completely grey in a time when the colours of my life were fading. Suddenly, my days weren’t just a dull loop of treatments and waiting for test results anymore—they became full of many, little things for me to celebrate and to anticipate.
Day after day, I looked forward to the little things in life, and in return, they replenished my worn-out spirit with gratitude.
So if something brings you joy, no matter how small the joy is, savour it, appreciate it, and save it in your mind so you can look forward to it next time. Celebrate the little things in life as if they were big things and you will be rewarded with gratitude and happiness.
5. Surround Yourself With Grateful People
There’s a saying in Chinese:
“Red ink stains one red. Black ink stains one black.”
It uses clever imagery to convey this important fact of life:
The people who are close to us have the power to influence our thinking, attitude, and behaviours. One takes on the colour of one’s company.
So if you want to feel more grateful, surround yourself with grateful people. Spend time with them, talk to them, and learn from them. Bask in their warm, positive aura and you will become more positive too.
On the other hand, keep your distance from these 7 types of toxic people. Their negative energy will only chip away your gratitude and emotional well-being.
Before you go off on this journey to cultivate more gratitude in your life, I want to leave you with some quotes to inspire and motivate you. Becoming more grateful in a tough season of your life is not going to be an easy ride, but it will be a rewarding one. And here’s a free 30-day gratitude challenge I created to help you get started!
Gratitude in Hard Times Quotes
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
― Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden
“Being grateful does not mean that everything is necessarily good. It just means that you can accept it as a gift.”
― Roy T. Bennett
“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”
― Stephen W. Hawking
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
“Got no checkbooks, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks – I’ve got the sun in the mornin’ and the moon at night.”
― Irving Berlin
“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”
― Rabindranath Tagore
“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
― Deitrich Bonhoeffer