You may think it’s impossible to be grateful when life sucks, but you can. There is a definite link between what we think and how we act, just as there’s a connection between what we believe and how we live.
When life gets tough, such as enduring a yearlong pandemic, we undergo a tremendous amount of pressure. Life is unstable and we feel out of control and vulnerable. When under pressure it’s easy to resort to emotional reactions and slide into apathy—choosing to mope and wallow in our misery.
For those who have experienced trauma, breaking a negative cycle can be even harder. Whether the injuries are psychological, physical or emotional, the road to healing and health can be long and arduous.
“Be thankful in all circumstances”
There’s a popular verse in Christian circles from 1 Thessalonians:
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This is an easy passage to quote, but it’s a little trickier to practice in real life when those “circumstances” aren’t easy.
I recently read a memoir called Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear, where author Eva Holland exposed herself to various therapies in an attempt to overcome her fears. While this book wasn’t written from a Christian perspective it taught me about “neuroplasticity,” which is the super ability our brains have to rewire themselves, forming new connections and pathways.
Neuroplasticity is part of what makes it possible for us to have a posture of gratitude when life is hard and nothing seems to be going right.
While practicing gratitude will help us be more mindful and see the silver linings in daily life, there is also a lot to be said for the Holy Spirit’s work in our minds and hearts.
In order to be open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting we need to be open to change, and to let go of our negativity and personal striving in favour of allowing God to lead and guide us, in all circumstances.
Finding creative ways to serve others
I have a friend who embodies the spiritual gift of hospitality. She is an outgoing introvert so her tendency is to plan sporadic events. This year has been difficult on her, to say the least. Without the ability to serve her community with her gifts in the way she’s used to, she has struggled to find ways to connect.
When it looked like our area was opening back up again, she quickly planned and advertised her annual holiday movie viewing party to our friendship group. So it was crushing when our region went back into lockdown and she had to cancel, again.
Instead of giving up or giving in to self-pity, my friend searched for a creative solution so she could still host her event. In the end, she decided to have a virtual watch party and upped the ante by delivering treats to people’s homes. Her desire to host a gathering and bless her friends with homemade baked goodies is so strong that she’s willing to go the extra mile (literally and figuratively) to bring joy and delight to her community.
How to be grateful when life sucks
Gratitude isn’t something you express instead of feelings of pain, sadness, confusion or anxiety, but these can co-exist. Having a posture of gratitude will help you balance the negative so you’re not too heavily weighed on that side.
While we’re all facing varying difficulties, there are many ways we can reframe our circumstances to rewire our brains for gratitude. Here are just a few suggestions.
Count your blessings—really!
Saying aloud what we’re grateful for is a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition but it doesn’t need to be limited to an annual practice. If you want to be a more grateful person, find ways to name the small blessings in your life on a regular basis. You’ll discover there are always things to be thankful for, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
What gives you joy? How can you make memories? Make an effort to create happy or peaceful moments in your day, however that looks to you. It could be as simple as carving out 15 minutes a day to read a devotional, treating your family to a special dessert or decorating a room in an over-the-top way that makes you smile every time you pass by it. Finding ways to make life special in small ways will make the tough stuff a bit easier to bear.
Let go of grudges
One of the quickest ways to adopt an attitude of gratitude is to forgive those who have offended or hurt you. It’s good for your health, and it’s biblical.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
At the end of the day, finding ways to be grateful when in crisis comes down to our faith. Do we believe God has sovereignty over our lives and over the entire world? If we do, then we need to trust Him to work things out for His ultimate good. If you can find a way to let go of control and trust God with the outcome, it will be easier to be a grateful person.