How to Be Grateful When Everything Is Falling Apart

By Lilly Howell


The water pipe in your kitchen bursts unexpectedly and explosively. The toilet is clogged, again (and it’s looking downright nasty). Your newborn has a rash and your husband is starting to sniffle. Oh, and you’re weathering a full-blown cold while your clients are sending you passive-aggressive emails about your “delayed responses.” You just found out your mother isn’t doing well and needs extra support, but money is tight.


And this is just a sample day. Lately, this is how your life feels like at all times.


Understandably, practicing gratitude is probably the last thing thing you want to do. Or maybe you want to, but it seems impossible when it feels like every moment is breeding yet another disaster.


Here’s the thing: gratitude is one of the quickest and most effective ways to lift you into a positive mindset, which gives you the emotional and mental strength to push through and find the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s proven to be one of the best ways to cope with negative emotions.


Wanna give it a try? Here’s what the experts suggest you do when your stressed or overwhelmed.


1. Understand the difference between being and feeling


According to famed gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, being grateful and feeling grateful are two different emotions. Emmons explains that we may not have a choice when it comes to our emotions. When everything is falling apart, feeling anything BUT negative is usually impossible. However, he explains that being grateful is more of a constant mindset that’s always there whether you’re enduring tough or good times. That’s why you need to practice it!


2. Remember the bad (or worse) times


Yes, recall the bad memories! I know this seems counterintuitive, but in order to help you through a moment when you’re approaching a meltdown, it can be helpful to think about some of the hardest times in your life to shift your perspective. According to Emmons, by reflecting on our hardest times it can help to deepen our gratitude for the positives that we do have in our lives. Remember how you were resilient through those dire times. By realizing your strength, you can allow your psychological immune system to grow and become stronger.


3. Reevaluate the situation


Another way to get yourself to a grateful mindset is to reappraise the situation. Emmons says one of the best ways to look at a situation through a grateful lens is by not ignoring the bad aspects of it, but by looking at any way this disaster can be turned into an opportunity.


By reframing the situation, you are avoiding the simple yet mostly ineffective advice you often hear: “Count your blessings” or ‘Move on.”  (Since this one-sided advice ignores the negative emotions you may be feeling, it can often lead to even MORE frustration.) Reappraisal, on the other hand, completely acknowledges your feelings.


So how do you reframe the situation so the stressor turns into an opportunity for growth? Here’s an example: instead of thinking about how damn busy you are for work, ask yourself, Do any of these tasks present a new opportunity for me? Is this a good time to invest in a new planner or project management tool (hello, Trello!)? You may be thinking: how could I possibly reframe a bursting kitchen water pipe into an opportunity?! Although this disaster may seem to be only negative in your life think, could this give me the opportunity to finally find a reliable handyman for future projects (like that leaking bathroom faucet you’ve been sprayed by one too many times!)? Or ask, would I be able to find a family member or friend to help me fix the water pipe, and in turn spend some quality time with them?


Although these questions may seem cliche and don’t seem to be helpful when you’re at your most stressed, taking a moment to slow down and reevaluate a situation can work wonders when you’re at your worst.


4. Make gratitude a family habit


Hey, if your whole family’s in on it, it’ll be easier for everyone! So try to create an environment for your family where being grateful is the norm even in the most stressful times.  One major way to do this is to model gratitude to your children and family. For example, if you’re sent a gift, talk to your children about how you enjoy the gift, but also how it makes you feel. Did your friend or family member write a kind note in the card or send you a gift that is something special to both of you? Tell your child how this act of kindness made you feel and why you are grateful for this action.


Another great way to practice gratitude with your children is to ask open-ended questions when a child is showing gratitude already. Ask your child how a kind act from another person made them feel, and why this act made them feel positive emotions.


Andrea Hussong, director of the Center for Developmental Science and a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has devoted her career to studying how parents can teach gratitude to their children. Like you’d do for yourself, ask your children how they can turn stress into an opportunity or remind them of their resiliency during harder times (“Remember that time you had a bad fever and you missed school for a week? You’re already out of bed this time!”).


The next time you’re feeling anything but grateful, will you try these techniques to change your mindset?


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