Practicing gratitude when times are tough

It’s easy to practice gratitude when things are going well, but what about when you’re struggling?

This was my great lesson of 2015, a year in which a challenge came along and I spent a lot of time in deep emotional and mental struggle.

It wasn’t all bad – some great and positive things happened during the year.

Yet, 2015 tested me to my absolute limits.

The zen-part of me is able to look at the great things that happened and give a fist pump. She’s also able to look at the negatives and find some perspective.

But the realist in me recognises that I truly struggled in 2015, and she gives me permission to admit it.

For me 2015 was a year where I had to learn gratitude when things were shitty.

You see, I get gratitude. It’s very, very powerful and essential I think to a happy life. Most days my gratitude is overwhelming. Blindingly so. I am blessed. In every way imaginable. And I know it and am grateful for it. I am not ungrateful.

Yet I see the gurus – the rich and famous types who appear to have it all – post constantly about gratitude. About how the more they practice it, the more they have. I believe it. I know this to be true.

Yet, I caught myself thinking more than once: ‘Well of course. It’s easy to feel grateful when your life is going well, isn’t it?’

Is it not easy to be grateful when money isn’t an issue for you, you’re not suffering ill health, you have lots of friends and a loving relationship?

It’s even easy to feel grateful for the mundane. For the sun, the rain, for food and for shelter. Easy. I do that every day. And it’s good. It’s really good stuff. It gives some perspective and a feeling of deep joy.

But what about when life is throwing shit balls at you? How easy is it then to feel grateful, in amongst pain, misery or struggle?

And that there is the secret sauce isn’t it?

Gratitude is easy when life is easy but when life is not, it’s then that you need gratitude and it’s then that you have to dig to look for it. If you do … the rewards are far sweeter, the brilliance of what you find much brighter. The blessings so much bigger.

I won’t go into the details of what was behind my struggle, as it’s not my story to tell.

But I will say that 2015 brought me to my knees (you know I always thought that phrase to be a fairly meaningless cliché but turns out it’s actually a pretty accurate description of the physical representation of someone in deep struggle).

The year brought out the best, and the absolute worst, in me, particularly in my actions and abilities as a mother.

I’ve written this post 100 times and deleted it 99. Because I wasn’t ready to rip the bandaid off and look at the scars.

And also because, really, what we went through isn’t anywhere near as bad as what other people go through and I feel guilty even saying times have been tough.

But you know, comparison sucks and just makes you feel worse.

You don’t have to be in the worst position to be granted permission to worry and feel scared or to recognise your pain. Suffering is suffering. There’s no prize for suffering the most, and you don’t have to feel guilty about your pain because someone else is in more of it. Pain is pain, and struggle is relative.

Still, I’m grateful that our struggle wasn’t the worst.

That’s one thing I was grateful for and when I was feeling my worst, I turned to gratitude and went looking for more reasons to feel good about life. I used gratitude to pull me out of my head and that place of fear and anxiety and stress and fatigue.

Every day, I wrote what I was grateful for. And on the really bad days, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I forced myself to dig deeper. Not just to list three things or five things but instead to write a page-long list of things.

Ten, 20, 30 … 50 freaking tiny things and big things that I was grateful for, so that I no longer focused on the one thing that was hurting me.

And it worked. It didn’t last – I needed to do it often, daily– but it worked. It calmed me, gave me back a sense of control and it enabled me to focus on solutions and not the problem.

It meant I felt positive that everything would be OK. And it is.

I can even say that I am grateful for the struggle because out of it we have all grown. Truly. I chose to look for reasons to be grateful for the struggle and I found them.

Gratitude did not cure the struggle. It didn’t solve the problem. It didn’t act like a magic wand and erase the pain. But it did act like a salve.

It is when things are less than perfect and our focus is on the imperfection – the struggle – that we most often lose the attitude of gratitude, and yet that is the time that it will most help us.


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