Gratitude in Hard Times


We know that every November, all of a sudden people remember to be grateful around Thanksgiving.  Here at Creative Wellbeing Workshops, while we like to promote the practice of gratitude all year long, we know it’s really easy to get grumpy and annoyed at being told to feel grateful. That just leads to resentment, an emotion that’s not helpful and only makes things worse. How do we find authentic gratitude when we are just not feeling it, when there is so much wrong in the world, between natural disasters, war, trauma, conflictual politics, personal life stress, loss, pain, traffic, and when we just run out of energy to care?

Dr. Robert Emmons, a well-known positive psychology researcher, reminds us that true feelings of thankfulness are an affirmation of goodness. In these moments of gratitude we feel in our bones glad for life’s gifts. Often this helps us to connect with a larger sense of goodness–to the people we love, to noticing nature’s beauty, to our higher power, to our faith. Dr. Emmons says that gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion. We feel gratitude when we acknowledge the help that people give us, which builds a sense of community, of family, of love.

So even when things are going poorly-actually, especially during those times, when life gets overwhelming-connecting with the things for which we are authentically thankful can shift our perspective. Also, remembering how difficult life used to be and how far we have come can make us feel happier-or at least, less unhappy! Gratitude helps us to reframe our memories of bad things in a way that can decrease their negative emotional impact. 

Thinking gratefully, studies show, can help heal troubling memories and even transform them into ones much easier to live with, with lessons learned through post-traumatic growth. But, to say that gratitude can help us to handle hurt feelings does not mean that we should try to sugar-coat and ignore or deny suffering and pain. But it does allow us a path forward out of our misery, towards a way of viewing the world that appreciates the good in life.

We appreciate you! And if you’d like more, here is our handout on the Science of Feeling Good.

Positively yours, Gioia and Rebecca

Art Directive
Write in your journal for as long as you need to about an open memory or unpleasant experience. Then, when you are sure you have expressed the stress, consider trying to shift how you think about it using the language of thankfulness in a poem (no need to rhyme)

Write a poem with the following structure (you can adapt this as need be):

2 lines about what was wrong
1 line about what strengths you had to use to get this far
2 lines about any help you got during the experience
1 line about lessons learned
Last line, repeat the first line, but change it somehow

Share your results with us on our FB page. We’d love to see them!