Last week’s blog looked at the benefits of creating a gratitude practice and explored many ideas for starting one. While some of you were ready to jump into a gratitude practice, the very thought of gratitude may have made others of you want to scream!
Gratitude & Denial Are Not the Same Thing
Thinking about gratefulness doesn’t seem to make sense when you are hurting. That’s okay! If life has been difficult recently, you may be struggling with all kinds of painful emotions. There is a reason you feel the way you do, and pushing these difficult emotions aside is not our goal.
In fact, denying our difficult emotions can actually have a negative effect on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It is important to allow yourself to lean into these painful emotions and accept them without judgement.
Leaning into difficult emotions and not avoiding them can actually open you up to a whole new experience. According to Brene Brown, “mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.”
Since we know that putting on a happy face and forcing gratefulness will not help us in the long run, let’s explore how to lean into gratefulness while honoring the hard aspects of our lives!
Developing an Authentic Gratitude Practice
In order for us to experience the benefits of gratitude it must be authentic. During difficult times we may not have much that we feel grateful for, but there are some little things that we can take a moment to notice.
By intentionally placing our attention on these small things that bring us pleasure we can cultivate gratitude in an authentic way. We can begin to recognize the people in our lives and think about past experiences for which we are thankful.
Finding Joy in The Little Things
When Dr. Nicole Braton’s father passed away, she decided to “find the joy in the smallest of things.” For 100 days she intentionally looked for the little things she enjoyed. She found this practice helped her cope during the difficult season. She has recently started encouraging others to join her in 100 Days of Gratitude leading up to Thanksgiving.
As mindfulness coach Jill Carbone explains, “Life is strung together moment by moment. So often, we race through our days to get to the next big event, holiday, or celebration. Living a fulfilled life requires appreciating all of the moments in between, for that is where happiness truly lies.”
Simply taking a moment to recognize the little things that bring you pleasure can have a positive impact. Begin by looking for the gifts in the ordinary. Take some time to notice these little pleasures; things like a glass of ice water, favorite food, warm bath, hot tea, or comfortable bed.
Carbone’s article “Finding Gratitude In Life's Ordinary Moments” is a great example of noticing and relishing these ordinary moments.
Recognizing the People In Our Lives
In an ideal world we would have many friends and family that we are grateful for. Unfortunately this is not always the case. During seasons of loss and loneliness it might be difficult to find people in our lives for whom we can be thankful.
During these times it is helpful to recognize the individuals who we do interact with; the neighbor that waves to us from across the street, our mail carrier, or the person helping us at the bank.
We can also think of people who have invested in us throughout our lives; a special teacher, kind relative, beloved neighbor, or close friend. If that proves difficult, we can take a moment to celebrate our best-loved authors, the musicians who created our favorite song, or other performers that we take delight in watching.
Experiences for Which We Are Thankful
As you look over your life, are there experiences that you are thankful for? Perhaps it’s the chance to go to college, a family vacation, or other significant event. But after thinking about the big things, focus on remembering little experiences that brought you joy.
It can be something as small as the first time we went off the diving board, playing a board game with friends, walking to the park, spending time exploring a hobby, or reading a book. Every one of these moments can flood us with feelings of gratitude. Lean into the feeling for just a moment.
In difficult seasons it is important to give yourself permission to have moments of joy. In the midst of an emotionally heavy situation, joy may not seem appropriate. But being open to joy does not minimize your pain, and taking a little time to recognize good things can breathe life into your soul during these dark days!
Feel free to talk with me if you need some extra support. We can work together to get you the resources you need to embrace your more difficult emotions while still leaning into joy!