I’ve been practicing gratitude — with varying degrees of commitment — for over 11 years now, since I was thirteen years old.
My first gratitude practice began with a “Gratitude Rock” given to me by my Dad, which was just an ordinary rock from the beach. I would carry this rock with me everyday in my pocket or bag and it would prompt me to think of something that I was grateful for.
However, it wasn’t until only several years ago when I was going through a challenging time in my life that I truly discovered how powerful practicing gratitude could be.
I was 19 years old and I had just started a psychology degree at university 230km away from my home. I was meant to be moving to the town my university was in, but my boyfriend and I kept getting rejected from renting house. For three months we were driving back and forth multiple times a week, staying in any accommodation we could get in that week and feeling like we were living in limbo without having a home.
During this time I began studying full-time, which I was finding insanely stressful. I had began my degree in the middle of the usual school year which meant that Semester two was my first semester. Everyone else around me had already been there for 6 months and gotten used to how things were.
I never did an orientation, I didn’t know anyone at university (or in my new town) and I felt completely lost about what was going on. I struggled to keep up with the workload in-between trying to find a house and would do my work wherever/whenever I could. We got to the point where we realised if we didn’t find somewhere to live in the next two weeks, I was going to have to drop out of university (but thankfully, we ended up getting a house the next week).
When we finally had a place to call home my boyfriend started working double shifts as a chef so I started spending a lot of time alone – more than I’d ever done in my entire life. I had not yet made any friends in my new town and I’d never spent so much time alone before. For the first time in my entire life, I truly felt lonely.
It was also during this time the anxiety that I had been experiencing for most of my life began to get really severe and started limiting me more than it had ever done before.
However, the main thing that helped me to get through this time and (most of the time) remain optimistic and grounded was GRATITUDE. I decided (practically on a whim) that I was going to step up my gratitude practice during this time and I challenged myself to acknowledge something I was grateful for every single day. And that’s what I did.
Nearly every single day for an entire year I acknowledged something I was grateful for — no matter what was going in my life. Even when I felt like there was nothing to do be grateful for, I dug deep and found something I was grateful for.
It was during this time that I experienced how powerful, life-changing and truly transformative practicing gratitude could be.
Practicing gratitude is the thing that helped me to find and acknowledge the good that was also in my life. It helped me to realise that no matter what was happening that I had something to be grateful for and helped me to focus on what I did actually have to appreciate.
During this time I remember thinking, “Yes, there are all these things going on right now that I wish weren’t — but that doesn’t mean everything is bad and I *know* that there is good in my life too.” And being able to go to bed at night knowing that I had something good in my life, made such a huge difference for me during this time.
Practicing gratitude helped me to realise what was really important to me and to focus on the things that truly mattered. It helped me to feel grounded and supported — even when my life felt chaotic. It also helped me to remain optimistic and positive during challenging times, and also helped me to cultivate resilience.
When we’re going through a challenging time that’s when we often need practices like gratitude the most, but often this can be a really hard thing for us to do. So if you’re going through a challenging time or the next time you are, here are 4 things that you might like to consider or explore if you’re wanting to be grateful — no matter what is going on in your life.
I know this might sound like the opposite of what you were expecting to hear, however I really believe that when we are experiencing things that absolutely suck that we should turn straight to gratitude to avoid or deny what we are feeling.
It’s important to let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and give yourself permission NOT to be grateful. Because sometimes when you’re going through a super challenging time that is truly the kindest thing you can do for yourself.
Only when you’re ready and wanting to — that’s when turning back to gratitude can be useful.
During my time at university there were times when I gave myself permission not to be grateful as it was the kindest thing I could do at the time. And then when I was ready, I turned back to my practice when I knew it was the best thing for me to do.
If you’re currently going through a challenging time (I’m sorry! That really truly sucks!) and you’re feeling like the kindest thing for you to do right now is to not force yourself to be grateful then that’s great.
You might like to bookmark this article (or pin the graphic at the end of this post) and come back to it later when you’re ready. However if you really believe that finding a way to be grateful will be really supportive to you right now, read on…
When I decided to challenge myself to find something to be grateful for, no matter what was going on in my life, I started really small and made practicing gratitude really easy.
It’s important when you’re going through a challenging time and you want to practice gratitude that you honour where you’re at right now. Yes, when you’re feeling good you might be grateful for huge and important things — but I think it’s especially important when you’re not feeling awesome to work with where you’re at right now.
That means that some days you might be grateful for an amazing experience you had, an incredible person in your life or an awesome thing you have achieved… But then on other days you might be grateful that you got out of bed today, or that you did something kind for yourself or for your new favourite show on Netflix.
There’s no need to force yourself to find something “meaningful” to be grateful for, give yourself permission to be grateful for ANYTHING that you want — even if it feels small, tedious, insignificant, or not “meaningful” enough.
My all-time favourite gratitude quote is by Alice Morse Earle, “Every day may not be good… but there’s something good in every day.” And I truly believe that practicing gratitude, especially when you’re going through a challenging time, can help you to acknowledge and appreciate the good in your life — and doing that can be so powerful.
But gratitude can be harmful when we try to force ourselves to be grateful for something that’s challenging us while we’re experiencing it.
When we’re in the midst of experiencing something negative, we can feel guilty for not trying to see the “silver-lining” or the “good” that is going to come out of it. But I want to remind you that you don’t need to find a way to be grateful for the thing that is challenging your right now (or maybe ever!) and that’s completely okay.
When you’re going through a not-so-awesome time, it can feel like there is more bad than good in your life and whether that is true or now gratitude can help you to find the good things too.
I know for me I found so much comfort going to bed at night knowing that there was something good in my life. So focus on those good things, give your energy and your gratitude to those good things.
Practicing gratitude has been one of the most powerful ways for me to find the lessons I want to take forward from challenges, failures and setbacks I’ve experienced in my life.
But — and this is really important — only when I felt ready to do this. And most of the time for me, this is when the challenge is over, or when it doesn’t feel as hard anymore, or when I feel ready to move forward. However, it’s completely okay to never find the lesson or find a way to be grateful for the challenges you’ve endured in your life.
If you’ve experienced a challenge and you feel ready to move forward, here are a few questions to help you to use gratitude to find the lessons in things you’ve experienced:
∞ What are you grateful to have learned from this challenge?
∞ When you look back on this experience in one year (or 2 years, or 5 years, or however long) what will you be grateful for?
∞ If this experience is something you don’t want more of, what has it made you realise you do want more of? Eg. “I’m grateful that [this experience] has made me realise that…”
I hope that if you’re currently going through a challenging time this article has helped you to give yourself permission to not be grateful for while, if that’s what is best for you right now.
If you are wanting to practice gratitude during this time, I hope this article can help you to find a way to do so that is kind and supportive to you right now.
And if you’re wanting some more guidance with your gratitude practice I’d love to invite you to join my award-nominated experiment The 28 Day Gratitude Project, where you will be guided through 28 days of gratitude experimenting.
PS. You can get access to a FREE daily gratitude worksheets and manifesto (as well as a whole collection of resources) below 🙂
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