Gratitude for challenges

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Some challenges can be naturally invigorating- like climbing up a mountain. Then there’s those other challenges, that we didn’t ask for, don’t want, and don’t like. This post is about those other challenges. (I didn’t have any pictures of me looking depressed or going through one of those other sorts of challenges, so I thought I’d use one of me climbing up a mountain.)

“I’m grateful today won’t last forever.”

OK, I don’t mean that about today.  But I have written that on gratitude lists in the past.

Sometimes, I try to be grateful for things I’m not really grateful for or I try to find aspects of awful things to be grateful for.  I say or write things like “I’m grateful for this challenge because I know it’s helping me develop coping skills.”  Or perhaps as above, “I’m grateful today won’t last forever.”  This doesn’t make me like the challenge or the day really.  It doesn’t make my heart blossom with gratitude or make rainbows come out.  But it does actually help in some way that I can’t explain.

If I look back at the challenges in my life, I can generally see where there was a lesson learned or where I somehow developed into a better person because of it or things worked out OK and I’m in some weird way glad things happened how they did.  It’s a lot harder to have that sort of perspective on a challenge when we’re in the middle of it.  It takes an extra effort to find something about a tough time to be grateful for in the midst of it.  Even finding something to be grateful for doesn’t necessarily make going through the challenge less painful, but it does sometimes help.

Going through a painful breakup, I might take the time to remind myself that I am fortunate to be the sort of person that feels deeply and really cares.  To me, there is very little worse in the world than having to break up with somebody that I really care about, in part because I genuinely care about others and I don’t want to cause anybody else pain.  Of course, this can’t always be avoided, but it is such an awful feeling.  Still, I am thankful that I’m the sort of person that is sensitive about such things.  I would take that over being some heartless person that doesn’t care and has an easy time of it.  This doesn’t exactly make the whole thing less painful, but it does somehow help me to feel better about the pain.

Working to be grateful when facing a challenge is also like making a statement to the universe, “I am going to face this the best that I can.  I may not like what is going on, but I am going to show up as the sort of person that has coping skills and uses them.”  It shows that you’re not just going to be a victim about the circumstance, but you are going to make an effort to control your mind and your reaction.  This aspect may be one of the most powerful things about working on gratitude in the face of difficulties.

There are some questions that can help one to find things to be grateful for in challenging situations:

  • What skills or strengths do you have that will help you to get through it?
  • Who do you know that can offer support or help?
  • What things do you have that you can do to feel better?  (Go for a walk, curl up with the cat, make a cup of hot tea, etc.)
  • What can you learn from the challenge?
  • What other things in your life are still going good?  (It’s easy to focus on the 1 bad thing when there are 100 good things.)

Another thing that can help is looking back at a challenge from you past and thinking about how you learned from it or grew because of it.  Think about how while that challenge may have been awful to go through, whatever was wrong at the time no longer bothers you at all.  Then try to have a little faith that whatever you are facing now will be the same in 5 years: just something that you look back on and are grateful for the lessons.

Above all, be gentle with yourself.  It takes a lot of strength to even think of being grateful during a challenging time.  When we are stressed, afraid, or struggling, gratitude can be the furthest thing from our mind.  Those can also be the times when we stand to benefit the most from it.

Further reading on gratitude:

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