Learning to Be Grateful in Difficult Times
By: Lisa M. Templeton, Ph.D.
Staying grateful is essential to feeling a deeper love and joy in our lives. Taking the time to appreciate the beauty in nature, art, or in the eyes of a loved one benefits us all. Generally, energy is attracted to similar energy – like attracts like. When we take on an attitude of gratitude, we live in a more abundant state of being which in turn brings more abundance to us. We also feel much better physically, emotionally and spiritually when we focus on abundance, rather than lack.
It can be challenging to stay in this energy of gratitude, even during the easiest times. We get habitually caught up in day to day life and just getting through it. Many of us have worked to cultivate more gratitude in our lives here and there. When things are going our way, we stop and give thanks that things went so smoothly. We get what we want and we are grateful.
Alternatively, during times of struggle, considering the blessings in our life can seem impossible. The irritability and frustration of difficult circumstances overrides and we forget about gratitude altogether. In times of struggle, we often try to change or get rid of what is difficult and attempt to minimize our pain. As a result, we end up giving more attention to the problem and living in resistance with the difficult circumstance, which ends up giving the problem more energy than it needs, leaving us drained and depleted.
If we can work to focus on the blessings, seen or unseen, relating to whatever the situation, it is much easier to let go of our resistance to the situation and open ourselves to learning from the difficult. No matter how difficult a situation is, start with taking a step back to gain a broader, vaster perspective and then begin to look for blessings that you may learn from.
To do this requires a small element of faith. It may be years before you are able to see something positive from a terrible, traumatic experience. Or, you may have something not go your way and minutes or hours later realize why that happened. The question is – do you believe that there are positive learning experiences to be had in difficult times? If you do believe that, why resist the negative at all? There are many jewels that arise from dark places. Would you give back the jewels to avoid the dark? My answer is no as I want to experience life fully and uncover what the universe has to offer me. We can work to welcome what comes and let go of our resistance and need to control with the aid of gratitude.
It is so hard to see the positive in difficult experiences, yet hindsight is always 20/20. Take a moment to think of a past difficult situation you have faced and try to find one positive aspect to guide you in why that experience might have occurred. Find the jewel in a dark place you once traveled. What did you learn from the difficult experience? What positive aspects came from this difficulty that you can be grateful for today? Did you meet someone new as a result? Did you acquire a characteristic that now shapes you? Would you change the past if you could? Stay thoughtful in this exercise before answering.
Resistance and fear are the biggest obstacles to staying in gratitude. When things don’t go our way, we want to change it, control it and mold it into what feels better for us. Letting go of our resistance creates room for the light to shine within the darkness – for the jewel to be much easier to see. It also takes much less energy to focus on abundance than it does on lack.
The next difficult situation you run into, big or small, take a moment to detach from the negative emotion that arises, observe the feeling without judgement, take a breath, and remind yourself that there are or will be positives from the situation to draw from, even if you can’t see any in that moment. If no positives can be gleaned, stay attuned and look for abundance with love and joy. Be grateful for any positives that can be seen – for the strength that the pain will create, for the support and resources you have in your life. This takes extra energy at times, but it is totally worth it. Make this a habit and the difficult times suddenly become more like the brief afternoon storms that settle into a glorious sunset.
Being grateful opens up our heart to allow more to come into it. The bigger our heart, the bigger and better our lives become. No matter your circumstances, there is always something to be thankful for- it may be just that we are alive knowing that the difficult will always pass, just as the storms move away to bring out a beautiful divided sky of dark and light.