Practicing gratitude in hard times

September 22, 2020

How to change your outlook and maintain gratitude when the going gets tough.

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”—Melody Beattie

It is easy to be grateful when life is going well. It’s when we find ourselves in the midst of a life challenge or even a disaster that finding gratitude can take significant effort. It does not seem natural to turn to gratitude while caught in uncertainty, but that is exactly what is needed to lessen our fears and improve our outlook.

In his book Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, Robert Emmons says, “…not only will a grateful attitude help—it is essential. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life.”

Gratitude changes our perspective. No one is grateful for a pandemic, of course, but when you start to become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness, deliberately practicing gratitude will inspire feelings of hope.

So, how do we practice gratitude when we don’t feel particularly grateful?

Start small.

When many things seem to be going wrong at once, look for one small blessing and embrace it. It may be something as small as sunshine on your face, a healthy meal, or a roof over your head. Try to notice the things that you often overlook. Searching for small blessings during a storm will help you refocus on the positive. Begin by listing them on a piece of paper, start studying them. Putting the list in a prominent place to read daily will help keep you focused on the things you can control. One sentence that I keep posted on my refrigerator says, “Right now, I have everything that I need.”

Share hope.

Share hope with those in need. You are not the only person feeling stressed and uncertain; others are feeling that way as well. Reaching out to someone in a similar or worse situation than yours will help you shift from thoughts of “poor me” to “how can I help?” Problem-solving and serving others bring feelings of hope not only to those around you but to yourself as well. When others express their gratitude to you, it will remind you that there is a future together.

Do one thing.

Take one small constructive action. Clean your closet, cook a meal, or make a craft that you have been wanting to make. Text or call your friends and family, and tell them that you are thinking of them. Keeping yourself focused on the things you can control will allow you to feel more positive and useful.

Gratitude is an active pursuit.

Practicing gratitude in a deliberate way is an important exercise in changing your thoughts. It must be an active pursuit and will not be easy, but it is the most effective way to cope with adversity. So, start small, share hope, and do something constructive every day to change your attitude, your mind, and your world.

Julie Cappel, DVM, is a small and exotic animal veterinarian as well as a certified weight loss and life coach. She has owned and managed a 4-doctor practice in Warren, Michigan, for 2 decades.