Do you secretly swear internally when someone cheerfully tells you you have so much to be thankful for?
When you’re going through dark times, practicing gratitude can feel more like a mandatory exercise than a genuine act. I mean, when you suffer excruciating pain every day, struggle to make ends meet or are grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s hard to feel grateful for the things that are going well.
And yet, that’s exactly what happiness research tells you to do. Study after study shows that gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to feel happier. Being thankful improves your mental health, boosts your resilience and helps you cope better with everyday stress.
“It’s not that happy people are grateful, it’s that grateful people are happier.” – Erik Barker
But how do you cultivate gratitude when you feel sick, sad, disconnected or cheated on by life?
Don’t just go through the motions. True thankfulness goes deeper than rattling off a list of things you know you’re supposed to feel grateful for, like having a roof over your head and food on the table. Practicing gratitude shouldn’t be a chore. You can only tap into a deeper experience of gratefulness when you sincerely like to make your life – and that of the people around you – better.
Here’s how you can feel thankful for the good things in life, even when life is hard.
How to Practice Gratitude
Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
1. Action Trumps Thought
How are you supposed to feel thankful when you’re just not? Gratitude isn’t just an emotion, it’s also an action. Psychological experiments show that we don’t only smile when we’re happy; we also feel happy because we smile. The same goes for gratitude: sometimes it helps to act grateful first and feel it afterwards. All you need is the willingness to practice the tips below to start invoking feelings of thankfulness.
2. Look for the Good in Yourself
If you want to be more thankful for the good things in life, why not start by looking for the good within yourself?
When you feel betrayed by your body and mind as a result of your illness, it can be hard to accept those parts of yourself, let alone feel grateful for who you are. But everyone has admirable qualities, something that makes them unique and valuable. What do you like about yourself? Are you proud of your determination, your glossy hair or your mean pasta making skills? Do you love the colour of your eyes or your wicked sense of humour? Appreciate everything that makes you you.
You can also make a Reverse Bucket List. Write down all the big and small things you’ve achieved, even despite your problems. Maybe you set off on the trip of a lifetime or landed your dream job. Maybe you stood up for yourself, quit a bad habit or simply never gave up. Nobody can ever take those experiences and accomplishments away from you.
And if looking for the good within yourself doesn’t come natural, you can get yourself an Everyday Bravery pin to serve as a daily reminder.
3. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
- Adjust your expectations. Feeling grateful isn’t a constant lucky-to-be-alive high, but more like passing moments of contentment and appreciation. It’s also perfectly normal to be thankful for the good things in life and still mourn all you’ve lost to chronic illness or tragic life events.
- Avoid the comparison trap. Stop comparing yourself to others, including your former healthy self. It’s human nature to always be craving more, but practicing gratitude is about appreciating what you have, not what you want. So if you feel left out or not good enough, take a break from your ideals and the curated lives on Pinterest and Instagram. Not ranking yourself against others also means you shouldn’t compare your problems with someone else’s. Of course “things could be worse”. But thinking about dying kids in Syria won’t take away your pain. It may help put things in perspective, but it can also make you feel even worse when you’re already depressed. We’re talking cultivate genuine gratitude here, not the forced, guilt-driven kind.
- Learn to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”.
- Flip-think your problem. Try to turn problems into opportunities. Of course that’s not always an option, but changing the way you look at a given situation can be helpful.
- Train your brain to see the good in every day. You can teach your mind to automatically scan for the positive things in life. Practices like writing down 3 things that went well that day and noticing simple pleasures create new pathways in your brain, build a more positive thinking pattern. So start counting your blessings.
4. An Exercise in Thankfulness
Remember a specific moment when you felt truly thankful and relive it, vividly. Think back of how it felt and notice the sensations in your body. Now let go of that particular memory but keep feeling the glow of gratitude inside. Knowing how thankfulness feels makes it easier to recall the emotion when you want to practice gratitude.
5. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Writing down 3 things that went well that day is a proven method to boost feelings of gratitude and happiness. You can reap the most rewards from your gratitude journal by focusing on people and experiences rather than things you’re thankful for. No need to make a long list of things you’re supposed to feel grateful for – a detailed description of one specific thing that sparked thankfulness works best.
6. Get Generous
Giving back doesn’t just help someone else who might need it, but it helps you feel good about yourself to. What’s more, showing appreciation for the people around is serves as a good reminder who and what you have to be thankful for.
There are many ways to express your genuine gratitude to others:
- Give compliments and verbal high fives.
- Write thank you notes or a ‘love letter’.
- Be an active listener. Don’t interrupt, read between the lines and respond with empathy.
- Perform random acts of kindness.
- Go the extra mile.
- Embrace the spirit of giving. Generosity isn’t about doing good deeds out of moral obligation, but because you genuinely want to care for the people around you.
7. Practice the Art of Savoring
Savoring refers to being mindfully engaged when you experience something positive. It’s about engaging all your senses to appreciate the simple pleasures in life. Instead do going about your day with paying much attention to your surroundings, stop and smell the roses – literally. Feel the sunshine on your face, listen to the birds chirping and enjoy every bit of your meal instead of mindlessly gobbling it down.
When you notice and appreciate the good in every day, from a warm shower in the morning to a cozy cup of tea at night, you automatically become more grateful for having these wonderful things in your life.
8. Celebrate Tiny Achievements
Living with chronic illness, a broken heart or financial problems can feel like an obstacle course – there’s always another problem to overcome. That’s why you should celebrate the mini milestones along the way, even if it’s just making it through a bad day.
It can feel silly to give yourself a pet on the back for doing something that’s relatively easy to do, but who cares? You know how challenging it was to host a fabulous party for your kids with little means, how much work you put into finishing that task despite the pain in your back. Be proud of yourself!
“Learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want.” – Jim Rohn
It’s not easy to practice gratitude when you don’t feel like it, and it’s perfectly normal that you don’t feel over-the-moon blessed when you’re going through tough times. But you can be sad and disappointed about the problems you’re facing and feel grateful about the things that are going well in your life at the same time. In fact, positive feelings like thankfulness can help you deal better with the inevitable negative ones.
So no matter what you’re going through, always keep your eyes – and your heart – open to notice and appreciate the good things in life.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like:
- Seeing with New Eyes: How to Find the Good in Every Day
- The Happy List: 31 Ways to Sprinkle Simple Pleasures Throughout Your Day
- How to Learn to Accept Your Chronic Illness