All month, we’ve talked about bringing more gratitude into our lives. But is it possible to look back and feel grateful for the difficulties we’ve endured? How do you find a place of gratitude if currently you’re mired in challenges?
We have all our fair share of hard times. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t. And I have been there too – toxic workplaces, extreme debt, relationships that have soured. I certainly didn’t enjoy those experiences in the moment or for a long time afterward as I pushed myself forward towards better things.
But today, I can look back and say I am grateful – because I would not be who I am, and I would not be where I am without them. If you’ve walked through fire, I’m willing to bet you’re grateful to be on the other side of it, holding the fire extinguisher in your own hands.
These challenges we face teach us lessons. For starters, they teach us not to take the good things in our lives for granted. They also teach us lessons – about what we want to bring forward with us and what we want to leave behind. And my personal favorite: they teach how strong we are.
You are strong. You’ve gotten through once, twice, a dozen times, and you will do so again. Look back at where you were and how far you’ve come! Part of this act of gratitude might involve processing those experiences to gain new perspectives.
Practice Finding the Positives
Let’s take a moment together to do a little exercise in practicing gratitude for an experience that wasn’t positive. Think back to a time in your life when you were perhaps deeply unhappy or troubled by challenges in your work, home, or family life.
Once you have that period of your life fixed in your mind, feel how far away it seems now. Ask yourself:
- How often do I actually think of it?
- What changes have I made in my life since then?
- Could those positives have happened without the negatives?
And were there any ‘silver slivers’ – pieces of the experience that could have been worse? For example, maybe while going through a divorce you grew closer to an old friend, or after losing your job, only being out of work for a short while before landing a new one.
Learning to Reframe
Think of this as a way to reframe what happened to you as merely a chapter in your life story. Not your whole story. A step on the staircase to where you are, with more to climb ahead of you. I hope this simple exercise helps you see the good around you now so that you can embrace gratitude for it.
There’s another advantage to practicing gratitude for all experiences, as opposed to just the positive ones. It can actually make you more resilient when new crises arise. There is a body of research that suggests people who regularly practice gratitude are better equipped to handle both large and small stressors.
Process the Tough Times
So here’s what you can do anytime a negative experience is weighing on you. Process it by writing it down in your gratitude journal and answer these questions:
- What lesson did I learn from this?
- Are there pieces of the experience that made it less painful, even if the overall experience was negative (silver slivers)?
- What strength did you draw on to carry yourself through the tough times?
- Are there positive things that ultimately came out of the experience, and would you have what you do today had you not gone through that experience?
I do want to be clear that none of this is meant to downplay trauma, pain, or suffering. Life is often difficult. And it comes with disappointments and loss more often than we would like. All the gratitude in the world won’t insulate us from hardship. But it does put some of the power to control our lives back in our hands.
Gratitude reminds us that we can learn, that we can overcome and that we can lean into the good things we do have in our lives. Sometimes it’s the basics – a place to sleep, food to eat, a paycheck, friends, and family. If we have those things, we are blessed indeed.