How to Practice Gratitude When Life Is Hard

How to Practice Gratitude When Life Is Hard
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Just Google "gratitude practice" and you'll find countless articles teaching you how to develop a gratitude habit. The amount of repetitive information on the topic astounds me. Seriously. Here are just a few pieces of advice that I found:

  • Just start a gratitude journal! Write down three things you're thankful for every day.
  • Meditate on what's around you. Work through your senses to find something you appreciate through each one!
  • Write thank-you notes! Even if you don't send them, you'll still reap the benefits of gratitude.

Those are all good and dandy things.

But, what about when life is hard? How can we practice gratitude then?

What about the times you don't feel like being grateful? When you can hardly get out of bed because the pain is so great? When your body feels like cinderblocks and you can't focus on anything?

Truth is, life can be cruel. People can cut you down, cut you out, and betray you. Unthinkable tragedies happen. You can lose your health, and loved ones can get sick or die.

It's all part of this life–but it's not the only part. That's where the gratitude comes in. And gratitude can be a fighting force to help you through the pain.

So, how can we practice gratefulness during the deepest, darkest times of our lives? As a person who struggles with anxiety and depression, here are a few truths that have helped me practice gratitude, even during my darkest days.  

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Remember – You're A Survivor

Regardless of what you're facing, you can remind yourself of this single truth. You have survived 100% of your past struggles, and that's a fantastic statistic.  

  • Remember all the times you thought you would break? You stayed strong.
  • Remember when you thought you couldn't take any more? You pressed on.
  • Remember when you thought life was over? You're still here.

Let yourself reflect on those struggles, the pain, and your survival. As you remind yourself of all the ways you've made it through, you can find hope in knowing you'll make it through again.

That's why I love the powerful symbolism of a simple semicolon (;).  

Where an author could have ended a sentence, but didn't. That author is you and the sentence – your life. ~ Adapted from Project Semicolon

The very fact you're here, reading this, is a reason to be grateful.

Acknowledge the Pain

Expressing gratitude can feel impossible if you don't first acknowledge your painful situation.  

Sounds backwards, right? Hear me out.  

When you face hardship, it's okay to name the pain. Call it for what it is. That doesn't make you weak or admit defeat. Naming the problem can actually empower you. Because, once you know what's causing the pain, you can start to find a healing solution.

That realization can become the key to your freedom, and that alone is a reason to be grateful.

On the other hand, you might feel guilty about feeling grateful amidst the pain. Maybe if you express gratitude during hardship, you'll diminish or disrespect the gravity of the pain somehow. (I've felt that way before.) However, this is simply faulty thinking that will only keep you trapped as a victim and powerless against the pain.

Truth is, gratitude will improve your well-being, even in a painful situation. Countless studies prove over and over again that gratitude comes with a slew of physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits. Just look at these articles from Psychology Today and Berkley University if you want to see the scientific evidence.

You can feel the pain and express gratitude at the same time. It's okay to hold both at once. And you'll honestly be better off if you do.

Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

Find the Glimmers of Good

To show gratitude amidst the pain is not a call to take your tragedy and magically transform it into something wonderful. Far from it! Pain happens, and it should be acknowledged–but not praised.

And once you've acknowledged the pain for what it is, you can start to look for the glimmers of good that happen amidst the pain.

  • Maybe your diagnosis was caught early on, so you have more options for treatment.
  • Maybe your neighbor brought over a meal, so you didn't need to think about cooking for the kids.

These little things add up. And when you spot one, you'll likely find another, and another. You can train your brain to find these positive patterns, even in the midst of hardship.  

You can also think about some "at leasts." Your situation might be grim, but there will always be some "at leasts" you can cling to.

  • At least my skills can transfer to another position.
  • At least I was at home when it happened.
  • At least I have a warm bed to sleep in.

You might not feel it right away, but these statements are vulnerable cries of gratefulness that will leave an impression of hope.

And how much more will your gratitude affect your well-being when it rises during the darkest times of your life?