It is kind of like being a mom. Nice and gratifying if your creature says goodbye to you with a thunderous kiss, a tight hug and a “I love you very much” when you leave her at school, but not so much when she gets out of the car throwing the door and yelling at the top of her lungs that ” you’re the worst mom in the world ”for telling her that she can’t have a horse in her bedroom, even though technically it does.
How to feel gratitude if one of your favorite people has a chronic or terminal illness? How to feel gratitude after an accident, a kidnapping, or after losing your appliance repair job? How to feel happy if your adolescent child has an addiction problem? Or when someone you love dies? What to do with conflicts and family breakups? What if the money is not enough? How to see the positive side if you have depression and anxiety? And what when it is all at the same time?
There is an important difference between feeling and practicing gratitude. In the heavy days and the thorniest times, it is difficult to feel gratitude, but it is just when it is most useful to practice it. In times of disaster an attitude of gratitude is not only helpful, but also essential. An attitude that resists the flow of ups and downs in life. It is a perspective from which we can see life in its totality and not feel overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.
Gratitude has many benefits. Among other things, it works as an antidote to difficult emotions, improves health and strengthens our social ties.
So, what do you do to practice gratitude in the face of difficult events or seasons? There are many simple and effective exercises. Here we will briefly describe some ideas.
Remember the bad. Think about the worst moments of your life, traumatic events, losses, illnesses, etc. Now realize that you are NOT there anymore. It means you got over it. You managed to recover from the death of your mother or daughter, you moved on after your divorce, you left an abusive relationship, you found another job and you paid your debts. You are here today.
Think very small. If you are in a bad mood, sad, or have chronic physical pain and have a hard time feeling gratitude, take a moment to look around you. Find one or two things that make you feel good about the life you have. A hummingbird outside the window, a text message, a tasty meal, a photo from a trip, or the potatoes growing in your planter. Noticing small details fosters a sense of gratitude.
Go to the basic one. My students and I started each class by writing down three good things that have happened to us in the last few days and we share one with the rest of the group. Sometimes it happens that someone looks thoughtful at the paper and leaves it blank. When his turn comes, he says something along the lines of “everything has gone wrong, I can’t think of anything good.” This is worth it. There are days or chains of days that we would rather skip. When this happens, we turn to the basic one. We all pull air. We inhale and exhale deeply once. What does this mean? It means that we have seen each other and that we are together.
The basic one – breathe – helps you remember that you are here, that you have this moment. And this is already a reason to feel grateful.
Even if you woke up today to the news of an undesirable new neighbor in the neighborhood.