Staying Grateful (Even When Times Are Tough)

Today is American Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be a great time to talk about being grateful (though I started writing about this important issue weeks ago).  It’s also the day after my birthday – so thanks for all the birthday wishes from around the world! 🙂

Over the years I have come to understand the importance of gratitude.  Instead of complaining about life, sometimes you need to step back and just be thankful.  This has been a very hard journey for me, and I imagine it is for others as well.  When something bad happens, your plans are ruined, or things didn’t go the way you had hoped, it’s easy to hate the world, to be sad, to want to punch someone, or to lash out.  Although this might be the natural reaction, most of those behaviours are pretty destructive and won’t actually help the situation.  This is why I am trying to practice being grateful, which is wonderful on great days, and hard on bad days (but still better than the alternative).

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Some people think I’m a pessimist when I say that I try to have no expectations.  Conversely, I think it’s just a normal way of coping with uncertainty.  When you EXPECT something to happen, and it doesn’t, you are likely to be disappointed.  However,  if you just HOPE something will happen and it doesn’t, it’s a lot easier to deal with.

“Expectations are premeditated resentments”
– Book (Bagels to Buddha)

One person that maybe people can better relate to is Chris Hadfield (the Canadian astronaut who you may remember from playing guitar in space).   In one of his new motivational videos, he talks about how important it is to stay grounded (ha ha).  But seriously, there are so many ups and downs in life, and even for the happiest people, not every day is as exciting as sky diving, as romantic as your wedding, or as full of purpose as saving someone’s life.  In a quote from the video, he says something that really sticks with me:

…[Y]our threshold of victory is totally up to you.  I think it’s far healthier to have 10 successes a day, rather than 1 success every 10 years.  It’s totally up to you.

Some people think it’s hypocritical to be grateful when you’re in a bad mood.  It’s sometimes easy to think that the whole world is out to get you, and you’re justified in your anger, sadness, or frustration.  However, studies have shown the the “fake it until you make it” strategy works for gratitude.  By thinking about things you’re thankful for in your life (even by just writing them down or thinking them and not saying them out loud) you will actually become a happier person.

For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events.  Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction then the others.

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There are many inspirational quotes about gratitude, and most of them are true if you’re willing to try it out…

If you’re interested in gratitude but not sure how to integrate it into your life, I’ll give you a little insight into what I’ve been working on.  I have started a “gratitude journal”.  Now it’s super easy.  Every night before I go to bed, I write down three things I’m grateful for.  Sometimes the things are deep and meaningful, such as the support of my family during a hard time, or getting chosen for an important project at work.  However, these types of bigger events don’t happen every day.  Sometimes the things I’m thankful for are tiny, and even silly.  Sometimes I am grateful for tank tops in a hot climate, a yummy meal when I’m hungry, or that my internet worked well that day.  The important part is not to be grateful only when you’re being serious and insightful, the idea is just to appreciate the positive things in life.

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Gratitude sites are everywhere, check one out today.

It’s so easy getting in a loop, thinking over and over about everything that’s wrong with the world.  So take a few minutes every day to think about something positive.  If writing is not for you, try just thinking about things you enjoy throughout the day.  Or something I do sometimes is to go back and forth with a friend, roommate, partner, sibling, or anyone else in your life about what your grateful for that day.  It might seem silly at first, but I’ve tried it with many people and it always turned out positively.  It leads to nice conversations, and feelings of happiness.  Even if you think it’s stupid, it can’t hurt to try right?

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So, I’ll leave you with that thought (pictured above), which I think is particularly relevant.  You can try to change the world around you, but there will always be good days and bad days.  People will die, plans will change, and you won’t always get everything that you hoped for.  That’s okay, it’s normal even.  The only thing you can change is yourself.  You can adapt your thoughts, feelings, and actions to be a bit more grateful everyday.  I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll never get sad, or mad, or frustrated.  But it might make your life just a little bit easier, and a little bit happier.

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
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