By Shannon Connery – PhD, Lori Russell-Siemer, LCSW 

How To Be Grateful When Life is Hard

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

~ Epicurus

Being grateful does not mean that everything is necessarily good Roy Bennett Quote
Shannon Connery
I think we can acknowledge the 2020 has been hard for most of us. Even if you have been lucky enough to avoid financial hardship, illness, or the death of someone you love, you likely haven’t been able to navigate life with the use of normal coping skills. 
As a psychologist, I can tell you that my clients are more depressed, burned out, and anxious that ever. 
Things we took for granted are now gone. Forget winding down a stressful work week with friends over dinner at a restaurant. Never mind that vacation you usually take to recharge after a busy quarter. Hot yoga with friends has gone from healthy to hazardous. Weddings, funerals, celebrations and meaningful rituals are temporarily suspended. Zoom calls, remote learning and isolation are the new norm. 
The question is, how do we cope when life gets hard. 
Even prior to Covid-19, we have all had times of grief, loss, stress, or struggle. As a general rule, life is hard. The pandemic just means we are all experiencing “hard” together. 
The people who fare best during tough times, are often the people who have been developing their mental health muscles over time. 
Preparing your emotional health for hard times is like putting money in savings for a rainy day. It gives us the ability to be resilient when life is challenging.
There are lots of things that can fill up your mental health bank account. 
Exercise, mindfulness,  and meditation are tools that foster health. 
However, the practice that will give you the biggest reserves, in my mind, is gratitude. 
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful. It is a routine of showing appreciation for people and things in your life. There is a great deal of research on gratitude and its ability to create happiness and positive mental states. I have found that gratitude actually has the ability to change the way we think.  
Gratitude can be practiced many ways. 
There is what I call “passive” gratitude where you write down what you are grateful for, but keep these musings to yourself. Then, there is “active” gratitude where you communicate your gratitude to others. 
The power of gratitude is in its ability to change your mindset. 
Practicing gratitude means you spend your time looking for things to add to your gratitude list. Most of us travel through life doing the opposite, noticing the negative; the person who cuts you off or the waiter who forgot your drink. This habit gets turned on its head once you develop a gratitude practice. 
Two years ago, I broke my foot, badly. It was painful and the timing was awful. 
I couldn’t play tennis with my team in the state finals. I missed a trip to hike in the Italian Dolomites.  Overall, it was a bad time. I decided to start a major project on the power of gratitude. 
In true type A form, I wrote a letter of gratitude everyday for 100 days, to people who’d affected my life. The results were nothing short of astonishing. 
Gratitude was able to make me feel positive and happy, despite my pain and stress. People responded in kind. They wrote me back. The positive energy flowed from the people I wrote to others. Gratitude became contagious.
Now that winter is upon us, and we need a way to feel good again, gratitude is there for the taking. It’s free, powerful and reinforcing. 
Imagine switching your focus from what you can’t do to what you can. 
What if you woke up, grateful to be alive, when so many have lost their lives. 
Bad times just might be the best time to start a gratitude practice. When the world feels out of control, gratitude has the ability to give you a sense of control over your perception of the world. 
Gratitude can inspire healing, create empathy and connect you to others when you can’t be with them in person. 
If you want more information on my gratitude project, check out my Podcast, Fix Yourself with Shannon Connery, wherever you get podcasts. I’ll be so grateful you listened! 
Shannon Connery, PhD –
Lori Russell-Siemer

If emotions were stepping stones up the side of a mountain, love and gratitude would be the pinnacle.  

Gratitude opens the heart and elevates the spirit.  When we express our gratitude to ourselves, to the environment, to others, we raise our personal vibrations and connect ourselves with possibility.  This possibility is then invited into our bodies, minds, and lives, weaving a tapestry of beauty.  

An attitude of gratitude sets us up for success.  

The more we recognize the good in our lives, the more good we begin to recognize.  The more good we recognize, the more good flows our way.  Gratitude in essence, is a practice in the art of manifestation.  We recognize and appreciate the goodness the world has to offer and then we find ourselves surrounded by more goodness.

Gratitude is a heart opener emotion.  When we can appreciate even the toughest experiences we have gone through, this appreciation becomes a catalyst for change.  

It allows us to take our power back from a given situation.  We can then use that power to change our dream, or dream a new dream for ourselves.  When we can be grateful for our experiences, we tell the Universe we are ready to break through patterns of resistance and move onto something else, something better!

When we feel disconnected from gratitude, we have likely lost hope.  

The good news is, we can reconnect with gratitude and cultivate that sense of hope, meaning, and purpose in our lives at any given point in time.

The following are some tips for cultivating a sense of gratitude, even when it’s difficult due to the circumstances in our lives.

1. Many people find it useful to keep a gratitude journal.  

Each night, they write out 5-10 things you’re feel grateful for.  Then read it aloud.

2. For people with children, it can be a joyful experience to incorporate gratitude into rituals like family dinner or prayer time.  

Ask everyone to say at least one thing they are grateful for from the day.  (This can be an especially useful practice for those who tend to perceive the world through a more negative lens, because it allows the opportunity to find the good and make note of that as well.  Over time and with practice, a negative mindset can evolve into a more positive mindset.)

3. If you’re finding it impossible to find anything grateful for, turn to Nature.  

Notice how nice it feels to have the sun shining on your face, or feel the wind blowing on your skin.  Notice the joy of hearing a bird chirping, or seeing a squirrel frolicking.  In other words, find something to appreciate and be grateful for.  If you can’t find it in yourself, find it in someone else.  

For example, if someone picks up something you’ve dropped, you can be grateful for a helping hand.  If someone pays a compliment, feel grateful for the kindness of others.  In turn, you can then make it a goal to do something nice for someone else and be a person they feel grateful for in their own day.

4. Try shamanic poetry.  

Writing poetry is a great way to notice, express, and heal.  The following are some templates:

  • You are the _________ of my joy (or love).

Example: You are the friend of my love.

Example: You are the librarian of my joy.

  • Beautiful the _________.  Beautiful too the _________.

Example: Beautiful the setting sun.  Beautiful too the colors it casts.

Example:  Beautiful the fluffy white clouds.  Beautiful too the clear blue sky.

  • As the (something in nature), May my (something in your life)

Example: As the sun rises in the morning, May my soul warm with gratitude.

Example: As the snow melts, May my anger slowly melt away too.

Lori Russell-Siemer, LCSW –

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