You know you “should” feel it. Everyone from scientists, to psychologists, to the most popular self-help gurus, is touting the benefits of gratitude. Yet, when you’re in the middle of (or trying to recover from!) a bad divorce, you’re not usually sitting around counting your blessings! Sure, being grateful when life is good is easy. But how can you be grateful when your entire life is falling apart around you?
If You Want to Know How to Be Grateful, You’ve Got To Start Where You Are
For most of us, practicing gratitude requires a massive mindset shift. We spend our days frantically running from one thing to the next. We rarely find a quiet moment to think, or to relax.
We’re constantly stressed out by all the things we don’t have time to do. We judge ourselves for what we’re not. We condemn ourselves for what we are.
Being grateful, as simple as it is, feels like an impossible task. We honestly can’t think of anything we have to be grateful for.
Or worse, practicing gratitude itself becomes yet one more burden in our already over-committed lives. It becomes one more item on our “To Do” list. When don’t make time to actually do it, NOT practicing gratitude provides even more evidence of how we are failing on every level.
The question is, when you’re mired in sorrow, anger, or negativity, how do you turn it around?
It starts with understanding why practicing gratitude is important. Once your reasons for starting a gratitude practice become clear, following through and actually being grateful becomes a priority instead of an afterthought.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Mystics and sages from time immemorial have touted the benefits of gratitude. Now, they’re not alone.
- Gratitude improves your relationships. A 2014 study published in Emotion found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to want to form an ongoing relationship with you.
- Gratitude improves your physical health. Not only do grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, but they are more likely to take care of their health.
- Gratitude improves your psychological health. Being grateful helps you reduce toxic emotions ranging from frustration and envy to anger and regret. Practicing gratitude makes you feel happier.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. A 2012 study showed that grateful people are less likely to retaliate against others, even when they are given negative feedback. They were more sensitive and empathetic, and less likely to seek revenge.
- Gratitude makes you sleep better. In a 2011 study, subjects who spent 15 minutes writing down what they were grateful for before bed slept better and longer.
- Gratitude improves your self-esteem. Studies have shown that gratitude reduces our tendency to negatively compare ourselves with others. Grateful people are better able to accept others’ accomplishments without feeling bad about themselves.
- Gratitude increases your mental strength. Being grateful not only reduces stress, but it helps you overcome trauma. Two separate studies found that practicing gratitude decreased the instance of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and increased resilience in victims of terrorism.
5 Ways to Be Grateful Even When Life is Rough
Once you understand how much practicing gratitude can change your life, motivating yourself to actually be grateful becomes a little bit easier. What will make being grateful easier still is finding ways how to be grateful that are simple and quick.
Here are five different gratitude practices that will take you less than fifteen minutes a day.
Spending five minutes every morning and evening thinking about what you have to be grateful for can completely change your day.
Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough conducted a study where they instructed two groups of participants to write 10 sentences a week on various topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for. The other group wrote about things that displeased them. A third group wrote about random topics. At the end of the study, the group who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.
If writing about random things you are grateful for feels too unstructured for you, try using The Five Minute Journal. It’s a handy little book that will help you focus on your blessings, and on your daily “wins.” I’ve used this journal myself on and off for years. Even though I know it shouldn’t matter, having this “official” gratitude journal keeps my daily gratitude practice way more on track.
2. Use a Gratitude Jar.
The idea of the gratitude jar is similar to keeping a daily gratitude journal. The difference is that having a gratitude jar that sits where you can see it all the time can act as a more powerful reminder to count your blessings.
Using a gratitude jar requires you to become aware of the blessings in your life. When something good happens to you, write it down. (You can also write down the bad things that have happened in the past when you realize that they were blessings in disguise.) When you experience an act of kindness, or you achieve a goal (no matter how small), write it down.
Put all of your random writings into the jar. When you’re feeling down, or you can’t think of anything to be grateful for, pull out some of your papers and read them. They will remind you of how many blessings you have that you forgot about! (FULL DISCLOSURE: This idea is based on Tim Ferriss’ “Jar of Awesome.” If that name appeals to you more than the “Gratitude Jar,” use it!)
3. Focus on What You Have, Not What You’ve Lost.
Psychologists and quantum physicists both know that what you focus on expands. What’s more, what you focus on, you When you’re going through a divorce and you’re focused on everything you’ve lost, you feel miserable. That’s why listening to sad music when you’re going through a breakup makes you feel so much worse.
Don’t believe me?/Go listen to “Let it Go,” by Idina Menzel, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” by Kelly Clarkson, “Before He Cheats,” by Carrie Underwood, or “Over You,” by Daughtry. How do you feel? Now go listen to “Unbreak my Heart,” by Toni Braxton, “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Let Her Go,” by Passenger, or “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Bonnie Tyler. Now how do you feel? Enough said.
If you want to turn your feelings around, stop focusing on what you lost. Focus on what you have. Count your blessings. Make a list of everything you have. Don’t let yourself get up until you’ve written at least 100 things you still have. (Yes, you can!)
4. Think About Those Whose Lives are Even Worse.
Yes, this one is a little bit morbid. But, it still works!
Part of the reason we all walk around feeling so terrible all the time is that we focus on everything we want that we don’t have. We compare ourselves to those who have more than we do. Or, worse, we compare what we have with what we think we “should” have When our real lives don’t measure up to our ideal of the perfect human life, we feel like crap about ourselves.
Remembering how much better our lives are than 90% of the rest of the world can help put things back into perspective. Sure, when you’re going through a divorce your life sucks for a while. But, you’re still alive. You have food. You have clothes. You have somewhere to live. You have more opportunities in your life when you’re at your lowest than most people in the developing world have when they are at their best. That may sound corny, but it’s true. Don’t forget about it.
5. Say “Thank You” Every Day.
It’s so simple. Saying, “Thank you” when someone holds a door, or smiles at you for no reason, or does you a kindness. We don’t want to believe that something that simple actually matters. Yet it does.
That’s exactly what Attorney John Kralik learned in 2008. At that time, his law practice was losing money, he was going through a painful second divorce, his relationship with his sons was strained, he was afraid he was going to lose contact with his daughter, he was living in a small, miserable apartment, and he was 40 pounds overweight. While hiking in the hills on New Years Day, Kralik made the life changing decision to focus on what he was grateful for, instead of what he had lost.
In A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life, Kralik documented how writing one thank you letter a day for 365 days changed everything. Little by little, Kralik became financially stable. He lost weight. He gained some real friends. Would that have happened if he hadn’t made saying “thank you,” a daily practice? Pick up his book and see for yourself.
Practicing Gratitude Can Change Your Life
No matter how you cut it, feeling grateful when your life is a hot mess takes discipline. It takes courage. Yet, the rewards you can reap when you do it are both boundless and real.
So many people make the mistake of thinking that, before they can feel grateful they have to DO something, or BE something, or HAVE something. They put off practicing gratitude because they feel bad. “I’ll be grateful when I feel better,” they tell themselves. They don’t realize they have everything backwards.
Feeling grateful is not what you do when you feel better. Feeling grateful is what makes you feel better.
What’s more, practicing gratitude is a habit. You can develop it with practice, just like any other habit.
For most of us, “feeling grateful,” isn’t something we ordinarily do – especially when life is hard and we’re feeling down. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do it. It just means that we haven’t been taught to do it. We haven’t developed our skill at feeling grateful.
If you’re feeling down and depressed, instead of wallowing in your sorrows, try counting your blessings instead. Do it every day. Do it whether you feel like it or not. If, after three months of practicing gratitude every single day, you still feel terrible, you can quit. You won’t have lost anything.
But, if after practicing gratitude for ten minutes a day you find that you feel better, or that your life is looking up, well, mission accomplished!
Oh, and, by the way – thanks for reading this!
As my way of saying “Thank you” to you, I’m giving you my best divorce checklist, for FREE. Just CLICK THE BUTTON below and get your FREE Checklist NOW!