Gratitude Through Tough Times
By: Sarah Brinkley, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
This Thanksgiving, some of us may find it difficult to feel grateful. We look around and see nothing but disappointment or loss. Maybe you’ve struggled this year in areas of financial hardship, broken relationships, abuse, or chronic health conditions. These are just a few of the burdens that can make it hard to feel grateful.
If you or someone you know feels this way, you are not alone. With everything that’s happened in the world over the past year and a half, it can be a lot easier to see what’s wrong than to see what’s right, and to wish things were different. And it’s ok to have these thoughts. You don’t need to push them away. You don’t need to push away thoughts of what you’ve lost either. Rather, you can use those thoughts to jump start a shift to gratitude instead.
“I’m supposed to be grateful for my hardships? Um, no thank you.”
Consider this: When you’re healthy, how often do you think about the fact that you don’t feel nauseous, or that you can walk down the stairs without a pounding headache? Unless you’ve dealt with chronic pain or a recent illness, most people don’t give a second thought to the blessings of health. Giving that “second thought” is where you experience gratitude!
Taking time to think about the trials and hardships, losses and challenges of the past can provide an opportunity to consider how much you’ve changed.
You’re a different version of the person you were last Thanksgiving. Things have happened since then that cause you to think differently, act differently, feel differently. Those changes may be subtle, but small changes can make a big difference.
- Rather than push away negative thoughts of what has happened in your life in the past 12 months, take some time to jot down a list of those situations or events. Don’t dwell on them, just list them out as facts.
- Go take a walk around the block or something to give your brain a short break, then come back to your list.
- Look at your list and consider what each one of those items has taught you or how you’ve changed the way you think, feel, or behave as a result of that experience. Write the lesson or change in a positive way: For example, rather than, “I’ve learned that people can’t be trusted”, write, “I’ve learned to be cautious about how much I share with people, and sometimes it’s smarter to listen more than I speak” or “I’ve learned that I have the ability to get things done”. Take your time; this can be a tedious process. Just do your best. Notice the feelings that come to mind. Acknowledge those feelings and move on.
Where does gratitude come into this equation?
Sometimes a cloud of depression, anxiety, or just a series of unfortunate events makes it hard to see or feel the gratitude we believe we “should” feel; being thankful for our friends and family, the safety or stability of our home, the food on our table, our health. In those moments it helps to step back.
- Think back to the experiences that caused you hardship.
- Remind yourself of where you are today and recognize your journey and how it’s changed you for the better.
The gratitude is for the growth.
Recognizing growth through hardship can be difficult to do alone. Sometimes it can feel like you’re minimizing the pain. It can feel better to belabor your struggle. But sitting in the hurt for too long eventually makes you feel worse. Especially if you are alone. It’s important to self-validate your emotions and look beyond them for the growth.
If you’re struggling to do that alone, reach out to a trusted friend, family member, spiritual guide, or counselor for help. A caring outside perspective might be just what you need to shift from your pain to a mindset of progress.
This Thanksgiving, let go of the “shoulds”. Consider taking some time to be thankful for the person God has allowed you to become over the course of the past year. It might take some work to shift your perspective. In the process, though, you will gain peace and hope, and that will make it all worth it.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19
Sarah Brinkley is a Licensed Professional Counselor with heart and expertise for helping people who feel overwhelmed, confused, unmotivated, under-appreciated, or misunderstood. If you would like to speak to a professional counselor, please call 800-438-1772, or visit our website to request an appointment – ChristianFamilySolutions.org.