As a life-long Texan and someone who has friends and family living in and around Houston, including my Mom, I can’t begin to tell you how heart breaking it has been to see and hear about the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey that has occurred over the last few days.
As millions of people begin to recover, and people who have lost everything begin to pick up the pieces of their lives, it has been refreshing to see stories love, resilience, and gratitude. We have seen people risking their lives to save others, neighbors offering their homes to strangers, and an outpouring of support from businesses, government, and the community. When we are knocked down, when we are tired, sad, and overwhelmed, it can seem impossible to get back up.
Our Grit & Resilience Are Built In These Very Situations!
By embracing discomfort and adversity as an opportunity, we not only climb our way back from challenge, but we become better, stronger, and more resilient as a result. It can be difficult to practice gratitude during hard times, but that is exactly why it is so important.
Gratitude is a powerful and proven resilience building strategy and research suggests it is the number one predictor of well-being. Practicing gratitude during the tough times is what builds our resilience muscle.
The list of benefits of practicing gratitude is impressive. Hundreds of studies have clearly proven the positive effects of practicing gratitude, and my personal experience navigating trauma with the practice of gratitude, while not scientific, has been pretty extensive. These are just a few of things that are positively impacted through practicing gratitude:
- Problem-solving & decision making
- Self-Esteem & self-worth
- Leadership & emotional intelligence
- Physical health
If we know such a simple act can provide so many benefits, why is it so hard to practice?
We Have To Train Our Brain!
Our brain is wired to protect us from threats, and there is no shortage of threats in our everyday lives. A car that cuts us off, a rude email, fight with your partner, bad news from your boss, an illness in the family – these are just a few of the mundane things that can cause our brain to operate from a threat state. In times of adversity and crisis, we operate at a heightened threat state for an extended period of time.
Practicing gratitude has been found to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and produce serotonin and dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitters). This means that simply the act of trying to find something to be grateful for tamps down our stress response and helps reset our nervous system.
Because our brain prefers the familiar, the more we practice gratitude, the easier it becomes. Try one of these strategies for 7 days. If by the end of the week you don’t feel stronger, more resilient, and more grateful, I’ll give you permission to be unhappy.
#1 Practice Random Acts of Kindness
When we come from a place of abundance, we want to do for others. Hold the door, pay for coffee, or simply smile. A little goes a long way.
Helping others is one of the best ways to practice gratitude. Make yourself available and provide any support possible for those in need.
#3 Write Someone You’re Grateful For
A letter, an email, even a text message will do! Be specific about what they did, how you felt, and the impact this had on you.
#4 Keep A Gratitude Journal
Rather than quantity, focus on quality. Each day write down 3 things for which you feel grateful. Explain each one.
#5 Practice Mindful Gratitude
Sit silently for 5-10 minutes. Focus on your breathing. As your mind wanders (which it will), gently bring your focus back to your breath. Think about someone or something for which you are grateful, and let your mind do its magic. Just bring yourself back to gratitude and breathing. I know, it sounds crazy, but it works.
#6 Collect Delicious Moments
Get a cork board and fill it with pictures, post-it-notes, cards and anything else that reminds you of a delicious moment – a moment y want to savor. Every time you look at it, you will be reminded of the beautiful moments that make up your life.
#7 Create a Gratitude Jar
Every time you think of something for which to be grateful, write it down and put the paper in the jar. Over time, that becomes quite the collection of gratitude.
Resilience, grit, strength, and courage are skills, and times of difficulty, adversity, and tragedy are the time to practice those skills.
This doesn’t mean you can’t grieve, feel sad, or get angry. It means after you feel those emotions, you begin to focus your energy on moving forward. Make time to feel and express gratitude. You will see your resilience muscle start to grow.