Be Thankful Through Difficult Times

It’s been a difficult year for America. We’ve seen political turmoil like never before. Over the past month, innocent people were shot and killed while praying in a Jewish synagogue, while dancing at a country music bar, and while practicing at a yoga studio. Relentless California wildfires have led to both loss of life and homelessness. People are questioning whether they are safe anywhere.

With that violent and tumultuous backdrop, we find ourselves preparing to celebrate a national holiday of gratitude: Thanksgiving.

When times are good, people often take prosperity for granted. Yet when life is difficult, we may see how quickly everything we have can be taken away. When our pain and suffering lead us to a place in which we no longer take things for granted, it is an opportunity to deepen our sense of gratefulness.

Given the uncertainties of today, it’s more important than ever to find a grateful perspective. Being grateful is a choice—and one that is especially helpful in difficult times. Why? An attitude of gratitude provides a perspective from which you can view life as a whole and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.

Here are four things that you can do to incorporate gratitude into your life this Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season:

1. Help others.
By helping others, you help yourself. This Thanksgiving, feed a family in need, visit a nursing home, donate blood, support our troops, or volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Even small gestures to help can make a large difference in people’s lives. Scientific research shows that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.

2. Find the good.
When things are going well, we tend to see the world in a positive way. But when one bad thing happens, we typically start to feel as if everything is going wrong. Our experiences are filtered through our own internal dialogue and perspective. When times are tough, darkness and negativity often prevail. The good news: YOU have the power to control how you see the world. You can choose to seek out the good rather than the bad, and you have power over how you think about a situation and how you react to it. Even in the darkest moments, look for the light. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you have to be thankful for this year.

3. Be present.
It’s easy to be mindful of the present when things go well. But life includes pain and suffering that can take our focus. If you’re mired in thoughts about the past or worried about the “what ifs” of the future, you won’t be truly present for your life in the here and now. If you can acknowledge and accept that which is occurring now when things are difficult, you will find a sense of relief. Processing life experiences through a grateful lens allows you to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.

4. Write in a gratitude journal.
Consider writing down three things for which you are grateful every morning. Paying attention to the good things in your life helps you to not take them for granted. Writing them down helps you to organize your thoughts and facilitates integration. When I write down what I am grateful for, it causes me to pause and feel thankful for all of the gifts that I’ve been given.

You can choose gratitude despite your situation or circumstances. Make that choice today. As I discussed in my article “The Science of Gratitude: How Being Grateful Can Improve Your Health and Happiness,” the scientific benefits of gratitude include improved physical health, stronger relationships, greater happiness, enhanced resiliency, sharper thinking, reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and more! Practicing gratitude doesn’t just feel good. It’s actually good for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all this holiday season.