Gratitude gives perspective even in the darkest of times. When life is going well, it is easy to feel grateful and to be appreciative. When someone does something kind for us, it is easy to give them a “thank you.”
However, gratitude is more than a courtesy. It is an intrinsic feeling. We need gratitude during the hardships of our life, but I can personally say that it doesn’t come easily.
In the last year of my doctoral program in graduate school, I experienced a terrible house fire during the middle of the night. I lost everything I owned.
However, the hardships I had already experienced in my life prior to this tragedy provided a lens for me to assess and view my current situation. I had already experienced moments where I felt beaten down by life.
I survived cancer. I almost lost my left leg because of the location of my tumor. I had to re-learn how to walk post-surgery and I had to have a secondary hip surgery as a complication from radiation. I had also recently experienced a failed relationship and broken engagement.
Needless to say, I had been through the ringer!
Yet from these struggles, I realized the truth within the saying about life being full of peaks and valleys. Despite the valleys, I found my personal mountaintop again, even when I felt lost and unsure of how to get there. I was able to find gratitude in my life circumstances post-fire.
I had a renewed sense of appreciation for my life. I was given a tomorrow when others are not. I would get to see my loved ones and spend time with them. I also viewed myself as a phoenix, quite literally rising from the ashes.
I had an opportunity to start a new chapter in my life. I learned the hard way that possessions could be gone in an instance. Plus, you can’t take anything with you into the afterlife!
I also realized how unbelievably lucky I was for my family, my friends, and for the kindness of strangers. The love and generosity I received was overwhelming and I had a renewed belief that good truly exists in the world.
I share my story with the caveat that finding gratitude in difficult times is not meant to diminish or minimize the experience of pain and suffering. It’s not asking you to forget what has happened, because you certainly cannot.
I did not have a smooth and seamless journey.
I was stressed about finishing my doctoral degree. I was extremely anxious around candles and light at night. I had nightmares and found myself worried about money and making ends meet.
You cannot erase the pain or suffering that you have experienced. However, when you take time to reflect on the demanding moments of your life and appreciate where you are now, you are cultivating gratitude.
You are building your “muscle” for resilience. You fought a battle and won, and you can win other battles! So, when you find yourself thinking, how much better your life is now… Focus on that feeling!