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5 Ways to Practice Gratitude

Jul/16/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Being thankful in tough times can bring peace and calm

Woman in white tunic expressing gratitude with her hand to her chest
Photo via Shutterstock

Gratitude is not a new concept. Haven’t we all felt and expressed gratitude at one time or another? Remember your first promotion? The special gift you wanted your parents to buy for you? The time when you got the grades you were hoping for?

Do you recall when your sibling was born, when you met the love of your life, or your bestie? Think of your salary raise, new car, new home, the birth of your first born, and your healthy family.

What was your first thought as you achieved these milestones? What was the immediate emotion? What did your mind whisper to the universe as it aligned with your desires?

G R A T I T U D E

The Oxford definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” 

It’s easy to feel thankful when life is going our way. But how do you find appreciation when you lose a loved one, are let go from your job, or your house goes into foreclosure? And how do you express thankfulness when your best friend betrays you, someone breaks your heart, or your child doesn’t get accepted into their dream school?

How do we create space for gratitude when life feels cruel, and the universe seems vindictive?

It’s difficult to practice gratitude when we are suffering, grieving, or facing hard times. But I have learned that practicing gratitude can help us navigate challenging times more purposefully. Here are some ways I thank the universe when the going gets tough.

Appreciate Your Tribe

Do you have that one person in your life who shows up for you? When my dad was in his last days, he was extremely uncomfortable at night. I would stay up with him and so did some of my friends. They would message me until wee hours of the morning.

That special person could be a friend who answers your call at 3am, a family member who loves you unconditionally, or a coworker who will meet you for chai and chitchat when things are hard.

Tell these people in your life what you are most grateful for when it comes to their presence. When you take a moment to pause, appreciate, and articulate who you have instead of what’s lacking, life feels fuller.

Find Joy Wherever Possible

Taking a moment to acknowledge what’s working in your life can not only boost your spirits but also help you stay positive during difficult days. In the spring of 2020, I taught a mindfulness workshop to incarcerated men and women. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter were at the top of everyone’s mind at that time.

I asked the attendees to share one thing they were grateful for. An African American man said, “Ms. Vikram, I am a black man in America. And I am still alive. Today, that’s what I am grateful for.”

Write down what brings you joy. Maybe it was the meal that you shared with your family, or the roof over your head. It could even be a dog video that distracted you from your woes.

Hold Space for Your Emotions

Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring your difficulties and embracing toxic positivity. Acknowledge the stress. Instead of shutting out your loved ones and going into denial, talk about what you are feeling. Honor the highs and lows of life. Reflect on how far you have come despite the challenges.

Gratitude can become a powerful source of healing during challenging times. I boarded a flight to India in May 2023 aware that I might not see my dad when I landed in Mumbai. But the universe gave me five days to feed him, give him a head massage, talk to him, alleviate his fears, and crack stupid jokes. I found gratitude in these memories I was able to make.

Shift Your Perspective

You might not feel grateful for losing your job or house or marriage, but you can make it a practice to be grateful. Being grateful is a choice. It’s not an easy one, but it’s about your attitude about the temporary crisis consuming your life.

After all, the only thing consistent in life is change. If we have seen the highs, we will experience the lows. Joy and sadness are two sides of the same coin. If we can embrace this simple philosophy, it helps us stay balanced and set realistic expectations. Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Just the way good times are fleeting, so are hard times.

Help Someone Else

This might feel counterintuitive. Shouldn’t others be helping you when you are low? But here’s the thing—just like there’s always someone whose life seems fuller than yours, there will always be someone less fortunate than you.

When my mom passed away, I was stuck in the anger phase of grief. She died young, and my heart was unable to comprehend the suddenness of her demise. One day, I attended a meditation retreat in NYC where I was paired with a woman to drop off sandwiches at a homeless shelter. During our walk to the shelter, she shared that both her parents died within three months of each other. But her heart was full of love despite her situation. It hit me—I was focused on my family and our suffering.

When we help others and become conscious of other people’s distress, we connect on a deeper level and experience gratitude for what we have. At the time, my father was still alive, and we shared a beautiful relationship. And I became immensely grateful for that.

Can you make a list of five things you are grateful for today?