Being thankful (even when you don’t feel like it)

Published November 14, 2019

Thanksgiving is around the corner for those in the United States.  It’s also celebrated on various dates in Canada, the Caribbean islands and Liberia.  Thanksgiving began as a day of giving thanks and sacrifice for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.  But for people going through a tough time in their lives, devoting a day to being thankful might be the last thing they want to do.  Losing a loved one, leaving a marriage or being the one left behind really messes with the mental state. 

There’s no escape

You can’t escape gratitude talk these days.  We hear far more about being grateful or thankful than we ever have before.  Quotes about gratitude and thankfulness are everywhere – on books, social media posts, coffee mugs and the list goes on and on.  Yet, it’s hard to muster up gratitude when we are in pain or deep sorrow.  Feeling angry or acting despondent comes more easily. In fact, the mere suggestion to “be grateful” can send someone off the rails or at least out of communication [with the suggestor] for a while.

Research supports gratitude

So, why should you be thankful when it feels like your world is crashing down?  The answer is simple – research shows it’s good for us.  Reflecting on what we’re thankful for reduces stress.  Gratitude research indicates that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.  Further, gratitude and optimism can even boost the immune system.  By focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t have, we invite much more into our lives like peace, patience, health and joy according to two leading gratitude researchers and psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami.

Don’t overthink it

Practicing gratitude or being thankful isn’t difficult and you don’t have to devote an entire day to it.  Take a few minutes each morning or before you go to bed to think about what you are grateful for.  Write it down or not.  Don’t overthink – it is fine to be simple.  My list regularly includes coffee and quiet.  Your list doesn’t have to be long and no one needs to see or hear it.   This is about you.  Be consistent.  Heighten your awareness and appreciation even in dark times.  The benefits of gratitude will come to you.