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    How to Be Grateful for What You Have, Even During Difficult Times

    How to Be Grateful for What You Have, Even During Difficult Times

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    Main Image

    Fall and early winter are times to be grateful. The harvest is in, Thanksgiving arrives, Christmas rolls in shortly after that, and before you know it, the year is practically over.

     

    When life has been going well, it’s typically quite easy — even natural — to feel a strong sense of gratitude. But when you’re dealing with stress at work, financial worries, health concerns, relationship troubles, and other common life problems, it can feel almost impossible to find anything to be grateful for.

     

    Despite how hard it might be, it’s worth trying to be grateful when things get tough. It turns out that practicing gratitude during times of adversity can be extremely powerful in helping you “bounce back” from whatever you might be going through.

     

    In one particular study, more than 350 students, faculty, and staff who were affected by the Seattle Pacific University campus shooting were asked to complete a questionnaire 4  months after the incident took place. When researchers analyzed the data, they discovered that self-reported feelings of gratitude were actually linked to more positive outcomes following trauma.

     

    That’s not to say that gratitude is an appropriate replacement for getting help from a mental health professional — especially when dealing with something as serious as PTSD. However, findings like these suggest that gratitude is much more powerful than we might think.

     

    Wondering where to start? Try these three tips:

    1. Reframe the “bad” experience

    When something bad happens, we typically don’t find it very appealing to think back and remember it. Instead of trying to suppress the memory or distract yourself from it, try reframing how you think about the experience from a different perspective.

     

    Keep in mind that the goal isn’t to deny any pain or suffering you might have felt. All you’re doing is finding new ways to think about the experience through the language of gratitude.

     

    Try this:

     

    1. Identify an unpleasant experience that recently happened. Keep it relatively non-severe for the sake of ease and simplicity for this exercise. For instance, maybe you said something embarrassing at work last week, or maybe you were ghosted by someone on a dating app.

    2. Now imagine yourself 10 years from now. What does your life look like? Who are you now, and how have you grown?

    3. Think about that unpleasant experience from your 10-years-in-the-future self. A lot of time has passed and you’ve learned a lot about yourself, as well as the world. Ask yourself, how does your perception of that experience change from this older, wiser version of yourself?

    2. Identify any areas of personal strength that you harnessed (or can harness).

    When we’re in a bad situation, we tend to focus on everything that’s going wrong. We think about what we can’t control, our shortcomings, our mistakes, and all the painful difficulties that come along with it.

     

    But what if, instead, you recognized the skills and abilities you used (or can use) to deal with it? You may not deal with it perfectly, and you may even fail, but at least you have those skills and abilities to try to make progress.

     

    Try this:

    1. Again, think about a past experience that was relatively difficult to get through. Feel free to use the same one from the previous step or a different one.

    2. Try to identify at least three skills or abilities that you activated during that experience. Perhaps you kept calm during a heated situation, or you used your communication skills, or you had to think quickly on your feet to make a big decision.

    3. Try to identify at least one obstacle that you overcame or personal limitation you broke through, even if it was done imperfectly. For example, maybe you never thought you’d be able to feel happy again after the passing of a loved one, but you’ve since smiled or laughed while thinking of them.

    3. Look for the lessons.

    It’s been said that pain is inevitable in life, but suffering is optional. Gratitude is not about masking the discomfort of an unpleasant experience — it’s about embracing the realities of life and choosing growth.

     

    Growth requires learning, and learning requires facing new lessons. Anyone can learn lessons by gradually exposing themselves to challenges (through studying, practice, etc.) but most often, it’s the most painful lessons — the ones that disrupt us on an emotional level — that have the biggest impact on us.

    Try this:

      1. Think about a past experience that was difficult or painful. You can use the same one from the previous steps or a different one, but ideally, it should be one that happened at least a few weeks ago (so you’ve had some time to process it).
      2. Ask yourself, what did the experience teach or reveal to you that you didn’t know before?
      3. Ask yourself, how are you now more the person you admire or want to be because of that experience?

    How Do You Feel?

    After completing each exercise above, make sure to tune into how you feel. You’ll probably notice a significant difference. And that’s the power of gratitude!

     

    Which of the three exercises do you think you’ll use the most to feel gratitude, and why? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

     

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