How to Be Grateful When When Gratitude is Hard to Find

Gratitude in storm

Even though the carols tell us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” I know it doesn’t feel that way for many. The holidays can be tough. They can prompt us to feel lack and loneliness in a way we usually don’t. Or they draw out our insecurities and stresses in a new way. I get that this time of year isn’t a joyful one for everyone, but, I also know that gratitude is really the antidote to the pain.

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but I thought it was worth re-publishing because even in the darkness, gratitude is the one thing that can help us see the light again and THAT can change everything. So go easy on yourself and others this Thanksgiving. Be kind and gentle. And even during the troubling times, try these tips to feel better. 

One way to cope with the challenge and adversity that we all encounter is to be appreciative – grateful – for the goodness that surrounds us too. It’s always there, but it can be tough to see during the bleak moments and that’s when we need it most.

Used during times of trouble, gratitude becomes a powerful coping strategy that builds the resilience, creativity and optimism and helps even schleps like me move through the darkness.

But how do we remember to practice gratitude on the days when just getting out of bed is a victory? You’ve got to go looking for it, to call it out, to sit with the emotion of appreciation, and then go forward.

Here are five ways to do it:

1. Start with any little thing. When you are knocked back by life, find any little thing that is working and cling to it. The breath in your body. A place to sleep. A bite of food. Eyes to see with. A friend to call. When you think of it, these so-called little things are not really little at all. They are life giving. Yet these are the very things we overlook because they are innate and familiar. Pause and notice these things now. Give thanks for them. Just a minute will be enough to shift you to a place where you can better deal with the challenges before you.

2. Get up and help someone else. You got troubles? Chances are your neighbor or friend or hair stylist does too so instead of focusing solely on your bad news, reach out to help someone cope with their stuff. Take a casserole over to the woman just diagnosed, string the holiday lights for the neighbor recovering from surgery, let someone cut ahead of you in line. We’ve all got stress and troubles. When we reach out to one another not only do you help them survive, but the generous act will give you a boost too.  And, you’ll be reminded that there is goodness in the world, even with the pain.

3. Do one thing today that you are good at. Are you good at organizing cupboards? Well then, when everything is falling apart, go organize the cupboards. Or paint, or garden, or make some soup, or bake cookies, or hug your child, or fix the faucet. Often when we are surrounded by doom we feel incapable of coping with anything. Darkness pushes in and soon we figure we can’t do anything right. Baloney. Remind yourself of all that you are capable of by moving toward your talents. And, when you are done, you have another thing to be grateful for.

4. Allow all the emotions. Gratitude isn’t a cure for sadness, or frustration, or grief. And, you don’t need a cure. Emotions remind us that we are engaged and participating in this life. In fact, you can actually be grateful for any emotion you experience, even if it’s a difficult one. Our emotions also offer insight, guidance (often our anger or discomfort prompts us to take positive action) and even help us to see opportunity. Pay attention to whatever emotion comes. Instead of acting badly from it, notice what it is you are actually feeling. Pay attention. Get curious about it. Recognize how it shows up for you and in you. Often just the noticing what it is we are experiencing diffuses our anxiety or sadness and allows us to move forward instead of being trapped by hard feelings. You can be grateful for this process. You can be grateful for having loved enough to feel grief at the loss, or for having pursued your dream with such passion that you feel disappointment when it’s over. To experience deep feelings mean you are here in the world, participating, engaging and that is something to be grateful for.

5. Get started when things are good. Gratitude gets easier with practice and it is easier to come by during the good times. So when you’re in the flow of life, establish a gratitude practice. Each day list five things you are grateful for. Say them aloud, then soak up the emotions they generate. Then, when the challenges do kick up, you will be in the habit of appreciation and it will be a natural way to deal with adversity.

I’m not saying the practice of gratitude will return you instantly to a state of bliss and joy. I’m not even saying there are rainbows in every storm. Some storms are just big and sloppy and whip you around. But, the bottom line is this: when trouble comes and you are looking for help to get through, try gratitude. It is a coping strategy and it  helps us survive when we aren’t sure if we can.


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