Hard Times and Gratitude

Emily Caulton discusses the need to keep perspective during hard times and offers some tips to help make sure that, while not diminishing or making you feel guilty about your pain, you are acknowledging the positives in your daily life. It is difficult to stay positive when something genuinely upsetting has happened, but making a habit of practising gratitude helps keep your feet on the ground and the world in perspective.

Gratitude is something that most of us strive to achieve when we remember to, but it’s undeniable that it’s often overlooked, particularly among periods of stress and the problems we encounter in our daily lives. It’s often the case that we only remember to be grateful when our lives are looking especially rosy and we’re feeling fulfilled, because being grateful seems truly impossible when a negative issue or problem is dominating our thoughts.


It’s difficult to have a ‘glass-half-full’ attitude when the thing that’s getting you down is something real – like an ill relative, a break-up, a serious argument, or a friend moving away to another country. These, amongst countless others, are problems that are often unfixable, and can’t simply be wished away and written off as a bad day. How can you possibly keep a positive attitude when something genuinely bad is happening in your life?


I’ve been through a few very difficult and overwhelming times in my life, as a lot of us have, and I must admit that I have rarely taken the time to think about the good things happening in my life during those challenging times. From my experience, however, I’ve slowly learnt to value the positive aspects of my life in spite of these problems, and these are some of the ideas that have helped me to look at life a bit more gratefully in difficult situations.


1.     Start by acknowledging that there is an event happening in your life that’s genuinely bad, with no upside to it. There’s never a positive outlook on illness, and it’s often impossible to see the upside of a relationship ending or an argument with a friend. By admitting to yourself that being grateful isn’t meant to diminish or solve the bad parts of your life, you don’t immediately dismiss it as a useless practice. Gratitude is about acknowledging that your life is a varied mixture of bad parts and good parts, and separating these to alleviate the feeling that your life is wholly negative.


2.     Writing down a list of things that you’re grateful for can be really helpful, but remember to fully acknowledge that these positive things do not undermine or lessen your struggles. It can be annoying and depressing to do this exercise if you believe that it’s supposed to make you happy again, so try to avoid this idea. Your ‘gratitude list’ is not supposed to outweigh the negative events going on in your life. However, this exercise allows you to consciously collect your thoughts about gratitude, and can help you pinpoint what you truly value in your life.


3.     Comparing your life to others’ is a fairly certain route to being ungrateful and miserable. A way to kick that bad habit of envy is to remember that you can never understand what it’s like to be somebody else, and the struggles that they might be facing. It’s true that you can often tell if someone doesn’t have the same problems that you do, but you can’t be certain that their struggles are any easier than yours. Even if a person appears to have a perfect life, understand that you can never know for sure what they have been through, are going through, or will go through in the future. By deciding to stop comparing your experiences to others’, you can focus on your own life and the good things within it.


4.     To realise that gratitude is a state of mind, formed by habit and practise, is probably the most important thing in my opinion. It’s alright not to feel grateful all the time, but putting in effort to try to think of at least one thing you can be thankful for – even if it’s very small and usually taken for granted – can allow you to feel less like you’re wallowing in self-pity, and less guilty for reacting negatively. Trying to practise being thankful for at least one thing a day, however menial it may seem, can make gratefulness habitual, and in turn, a permanent state of mind.


Gratefulness does not necessarily dictate how you feel – it’s a conscious practice that may or may not make you feel better, but reminds you that not every single part of your life is bad. By incorporating it into your life in a small way, big changes can occur in your state of mind.