Gratitude has helped me enormously since my accident two and a half years ago. During this time we have been practising gratitude each night before going to sleep. It has helped me to see the light in the darkness of tough times. However, after receiving heartbreaking news from my husband’s immediate family, we found ourselves confined to pain again. In times when dark clouds hang over us, gratitude can seem hard, almost impossible. In those times, gratitude requires practice.
Gratitude practice in hard times – avoid its pitfall
It felt so that evening, when practising gratitude before sleep, it was hard to find something to be grateful for. Visiting my in-laws and seeing other family members reminded me of what I was thankful for. But upon asking my husband what he was grateful for, having just received the heartbreaking news, he simply answered, “Nothing.” I knew this was hard for him, but I was trying to find things that he could be grateful for. However, even with my best intention of helping him to find something he could appreciate, he found gratitude hard and lost interest in counting his blessings. It wasn’t like him. So, that evening I gave up. I didn’t force him to do something he wasn’t comfortable doing.
I realised at that moment gratitude shouldn’t be forced. Whilst practising gratitude, we need to be able to acknowledge our feelings. We shouldn’t deny them. Gratitude is supposed to help us process our emotions, not encourage us to disregard or dismiss our thoughts and feelings. Difficult emotions need to be processed, not hidden or avoided. All our feelings are valid, and repressing them may turn genuine gratitude into a toxic one. It can even be harmful since unprocessed emotions can cause trauma and mental health problems. If you are dealing with unprocessed emotional experiences and trauma, my free e-book, 7 Keys To Self-Healing, A Trauma Survivor’s Guide, can help you with these.
Cultivating gratitude in difficult times
Practising gratitude doesn’t mean being happy about everything or comparing our pain and experiences with others. It doesn’t mean trivialising or invalidating any emotion or sadness we may be experiencing. Gratitude shouldn’t bypass our pain.
According to Dr Nekeshia Hammond, a psychologist and author in Brandon, Florida, and past president of the Florida Psychological Association, a strong sense of gratitude and negative emotions can co-exist. I was still upset about the sad news we had received, but, at the same time, I was glad that I could be with the rest of the family and that we could comfort each other. I did not blame my husband for not being in the mood for gratitude that evening. The devastating news hit him tremendously hard, and sometimes there are situations when we just need to sit with our feelings and take time to process them.
Being unable to find something we are grateful for when we experience grief, sorrow, or despair doesn’t make us a negative person or a failure. Practising gratitude should help decrease our levels of stress hormones, beating ourselves up for not being able to think of something to be grateful for is likely to have the opposite impact.
Alternative ways to express gratitude
Gratitude has many benefits for our general well-being, mental and physical health and can help us sleep better. However, practising gratitude should not become a chore; otherwise, it may become counterproductive. So, when gratitude is hard, you might want to try these alternative approaches to gratitude:
- Instead of practising gratitude every day, practice it every other day or three times a week.
- Instead of practising it at your usual time try saying ‘thank you’ during the day. You might find it easier to say thank you after someone helps you or does something nice for you.
- Instead of practising gratitude in your usual way, try telling someone that you appreciate them and why.
- Instead of counting your blessings, practise kindness and selflessness, any small act of kindness is big enough, even if it’s just kind words or helping someone during the day.
- Instead of practising gratitude as you usually would, try something different. Maybe write down your feelings or keep a gratitude journal, doing so might help you to realise that there is something you are grateful for. My free Journaling Tips and Prompts might help you with your writing if you feel stuck. Download your free Journaling guide here.
- And remember we don’t always have to be grateful for big things, even the simple things count. I remember a friend of mine saying “Grateful for spaghetti”, and why not?
Revamp your gratitude practice
We are all different, we react to and deal with situations differently. So if you are going through tough times when you find gratitude practice hard, be honest with yourself, your feelings and don’t torture yourself for it. Practising gratitude won’t in itself stop your issues or fix your problems. However, don’t get stuck in a hole for too long. Trying alternative methods may help you to find appreciation in life whilst you are acknowledging and processing your emotions during harder times.
So, be mindful of how you practise gratitude to avoid falling into the potential pitfall. After all, gratitude practice is an intervention that should positively affect your mental health. Gratitude that isn’t forced, but practised from our heart, is like medicine for our heart and soul, bringing more happiness and enhancing our well-being. Being open to genuine gratitude amidst the reality of our emotions will help us to achieve this.
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