It’s easy to assume that most of us are facing difficult times this Thanksgiving. You may be without a job, have an illness, or be feeling lonely and anxious among many other things. When going through difficult times, it’s harder to see the good that exists amidst our troubles. But practicing gratitude during a difficult time can genuinely help.
By being more grateful for what we do have, we can increase our happiness by 25% according to University of California Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Emmons, author of the book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. He says that gratitude is one of the few things that can change people’s lives in a measurable way.
He sums up his research on gratitude’s effects:
“We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health.”
We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy.”
But, there’s a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. While we might not feel grateful during a difficult time, we can be grateful. We can choose gratitude. We can choose a grateful perspective.
When disaster strikes, as it has over and over again in 2020, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life as a whole and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.
In short, gratitude can be our raft.
Here are four ideas to practice gratitude when stress and chaos strike.
#1 Count your current blessings.
Think about what you’re currently struggling with and identifying the area of your life that it’s affecting. Next, think about all the other areas of your life where you’re not struggling. Maybe you’re struggling with a work issue, so you think about your good health and your happy home life. Then reflect on all the things that are going right.
#2 Consider what’s way worse.
Name what’s currently upsetting you, and then come up with a situation (or two) that’s a whole lot worse. Your worst-case scenario could be completely absurd or funny (or not). Let’s use the example of a difficult boss.
- Your whole team now consists of several versions of your boss.
- Your boss follows you home and now lives with you. All. The. Time.
- You lose your job, and your boss goes everywhere with you and nitpicks everything you do.
#3 Hunt for the positive.
This is a great way to engage your imagination and invite some play into your life—during a time you likely need it most. Find at least three positive things, three times a day for an entire week. And all these things have to be different. But they can be small. Even tiny. For instance, you might be grateful that a stranger held the door for you, you got to savor a hot cup of coffee, or your favorite shirt was clean after all.
#4 Express Your Gratitude
Expressing gratitude to our loved ones and to strangers every day can be uplifting for both the giver and receiver. We are often so consumed with our daily routines and obligations that we may take people for granted and if we stopped to say thanks, we can make someone’s day.
Our perspective for the people who might be in need of some thankfulness has shifted this year. How long have we taken our teachers, bus drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers, grocery store workers, healthcare workers, and so many other front-line workers for granted? We can deliver a huge boost of positive energy to them simply by expressing our gratitude.
When you’re going through a difficult time, it’s important to honor your feelings. Honor your pain, hurt, confusion, anger, and fear. And adjust your perspective. Because even in the midst of the worst kinds of losses, there can be love and even laughter. And for that we can be grateful.