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How to Practice Gratitude, Even in Tough Times

Seven simple ways to be more grateful.

czarny_bez/Getty Images
czarny_bez/Getty Images

I know this might sound crazy, but I’m grateful for every single tough time I’ve ever endured.

I’m grateful that my previous romantic relationships didn’t work out.

I grew into a more authentic version of myself through what I learned.

I’m grateful for every job interview that didn’t pan out.

I forged a new career path that was more in line with my values.

I’m grateful for everything I ever prayed for, but never got.

Not always getting what I wanted was a blessing of protection and love from above.

But, of course, it was a completely different story when I was in the midst of all that change—of all those storms. I felt devastated when love was lost. I felt disillusioned when I didn’t land those “perfect” professional opportunities. I felt denied by the Universe for not getting the good fortune I thought I deserved.

Ultimately, there were bigger, better, bolder things in store for me. Looking back now, I appreciate the winding road from Point A to Point D as opposed to the direct path from Point A to Point B that I thought it should’ve been. What I thought were detours along the way were actually the main attractions themselves—opportunities for me to learn lessons that would help me further down the line, as well as opportunities for me to grow into a more evolved version of myself.

That’s the real power of gratitude: It can transform challenges into opportunities and setbacks into comebacks. Research suggests that it can even help with closure and emotional coping.

Ever heard of the phrase “fair-weather friend”? A “fair-weather friend” is someone you’re close with who’s only available and present when things seem to be going well in your life—when the weather conditions are good and everything is smooth sailing. But the second the storms show up, that person is nowhere to be found. They retreat into their own bubble of convenience and shy away from the opportunity to show up and help you during your difficulties or times of need.

Turns out, the storms of your life show you what—and whom—really matter. It may be time to ask yourself: Am I being a “fair-weather friend” to myself? Am I only grateful and present when things seem to be going well in my life?

Because even when the clouds and rain block the sun, it doesn’t mean it’s not still shining elsewhere. You just can’t see it from where you stand relative to its gorgeous glow. Like a plane breaking through the clouds to see the sun shining above, you need to progress to higher ground—to a fresh perspective.

Gratitude is what propels you to that higher ground—to a freedom from the constant fear of the weather changes in life. Gratitude reminds you of the roots you grew during previous storms. Gratitude reminds you that it’s always sunny even if you can’t see it from where you currently stand. Gratitude reminds you that this too shall pass. 

Below, I share seven ways to be grateful and cultivate more appreciation in your life. Because your sense of peace shouldn’t be beholden to a weather forecast over which you have no control. It’s time for liberation. It’s time for freedom. It’s time for gratitude.

Value the ebb and flow—the sun and storms—of life.

Just like the breath that flows in and out of you dozens of times each minute, life cycles through periods of inhaling and exhaling, sun and storms. Trust that even though the terrain may seem treacherous right now, it won’t always be this way.

Truth is, the rain in our lives can wash us clean by reminding us of what really matters—and that life itself is impermanent. Try to look for the sun—the good or the lesson—in any situation. And then appreciate the sun even more when it actually returns.

Focus on and celebrate little wins.

When things are particularly difficult, it can be hard to face the day. Don’t fret—it’s perfectly normal to struggle when you’re dealing with trauma or truly tough challenges.

Instead of trying to achieve everything all at once, just focus on one thing at a time. Gratitude, I’ve found, is best practiced in the small, everyday moments like brewing a cup of tea, making the bed, taking a shower and cooking. When we strip our lives down to these easy activities, it helps us better appreciate the fundamental aspects of living such as breathing, eating, sleeping and bonding.

So, celebrate the simple pleasures of life. Be grateful that you’ve been blessed with another day on this planet. Relish in the knowledge that even if all you do today is breathe and eat, you’ve succeeded in enjoying life in its simplest form of conscious being. And that’s all that was ever expected of you.

Think about your 100% success rate.

You may not even realize this, but thus far, you have a perfect score for surviving what you’ve been through. You have successfully endured every challenge you’ve ever faced before. The lessons learned in your lowest lows prepare you to receive the blessings of your highest highs. This time will be no different. How do I know? Because it’s about progress and growth—not “winning” and perfection. So, go forward with the knowledge that no matter what comes your way you’ll push through because you always have.

Realize that growth isn’t linear.

As much as you may want the events in your life to progress in an easy, clean and linear fashion that makes a lot of sense, it just doesn’t work that way. You’ll face things you never expected to experience. You’ll have to relearn lessons you thought you already learned in the past. You’ll be thrown for more than your fair share of detours and loops and plot twists.

The key is to embrace the journey. Instead of rebelling and resisting, accept and appreciate. That’s the only way to stay grateful and never end up unhappy again.

Shift your focus to all the ways this experience is shaping and preparing you for the future. When you reframe your life in this way, you’ll welcome change with open arms because you’ll recognize how it’s actually helping instead of hurting you. You’ll realize that it’s been helping you grow all along despite all your begging and kicking and screaming to the contrary.

Limit the labels.

The events of your life are neither “good” nor “bad,” “happy” nor “sad”. Those are internal interpretations based on your perspective and your experience leading up to this point. When you learn to see life outside of this dichotomy, you can embrace the gray area of growth and possibility instead of focusing on extremes.

Bottom line: You often don’t get to control what happens to you, but you do get to control how you internalize and respond to the stimuli. The more you accept this life lesson, the more grateful you’ll become.

Remember everything you wished for that manifested in your life.

When things aren’t going your way, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what you don’t have—or all the ways you’re disappointed. But remember: You have accomplished so many things you wished for in the past. This isn’t about what you lack, it’s about counting your blessings.

So, acknowledge and cherish your progress. It will help you recognize how far you’ve come and stay grounded in that grateful state.

Show your appreciation.

One of the best ways to be grateful is to practice expressing it on a daily basis. Whether spoken out loud to yourself or to a friend, or written down in a gratitude journal, communicating all of the things that you’re grateful for in this moment or on this day will help you flex and grow this muscle. And then it’ll be just as easy to express gratitude in the darker moments as it is in the sunnier ones. And will give you a record you can return to on those cloudy days when you feel like things aren’t going your way.

What are some ways you cultivate and express gratitude in your daily life? Share your story in the comments—or Tweet me at @crackliffe.

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