It is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. Deeply happy people are even thankful for the trials and tragedies they pass through. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize, heal, bring hope, and help us cope with hard times. But how do we get to a point where we feel gratitude in times of trial? Here are a few ideas to think about:
Remember the Bad. Trials and suffering can actually refine and deepen our gratitude if we allow them to encourage us not to take things for granted. When times are good, people take prosperity for granted and begin to believe that they are invulnerable. If you begin to see that everything you have and everything you have counted on may not be permanent, it becomes much harder to treat it lightly. The process of remembering how difficult life has been and how far we have come, sets up an explicit contrast that is fertile ground for gratefulness. It allows us to use those trials in a positive way. Our minds think in terms of mental comparisons, so contrasting the present with negative times in the past can make us feel happier now and enhance our overall sense of well-being and progress.
Reframe Disaster. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity, but it is about reframing a loss into a potential gain and recasting negativity into positive channels for gratitude. Research has shown that those who focus on the positive aspects of a difficult experience – and discover what about it might now make them feel grateful – demonstrate more closure and less unpleasant emotional impact. Ask yourself questions such as: What lessons did the experience teach me? What did the experience draw out of me that surprised me? How am I now more the person I want to become because of it? Have my negative feelings about the experience limited or prevented my ability to feel gratitude for the first time since it occurred? Has the experience removed a personal obstacle that previously prevented me from feeling grateful? Our recent blog post on Belief Windows may provide further insight.
Learn to Be Grateful. It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily make ourselves feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points. Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. This is a mindset skill worth developing.
Most people will tell you that life is tough, and they’re correct. We often look back on our past with longing for a better and simpler time. But if we are honest, didn’t we also consider those as times of trial while in them? Sometimes our memories forgive and forget those challenges as we survive them and move forward in the human experience. This is good news! It means that we can choose to change our outlook and focus on the good…instead of the difficult, disappointing and despair-inducing view we may have at present. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances and setbacks. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve, but it’s well worth the effort.