Thanksgiving is almost here and I’m stumbling upon lots of articles and blog posts about gratitude and giving thanks. There are so many awesome practices out there for recognizing, cultivating, and expressing thanks. It’s great! A few I have found or discovered myself:
- keeping a gratitude journal
- setting an alarm on your phone for daily thanksgiving
- writing down one thing you’re thankful for everyday, putting it in a jar or box, and reviewing at the end of the year
- sending yourself or a loved one a gratitude note
- jotting your thanks down in your weekly planner
- reading your gratitude aloud at the Thanksgiving dinner table
- showing your thankfulness by volunteering
- reflecting on the things you have: health, family, breath in your lungs
The list goes on. And these are all wonderful. But this is not another blog post on how to express your thanks for the obvious things for which you’re grateful. Nope. Instead it’s about finding the gratitude for the tough stuff. I’m talking about the crappy relationship you were in, for losing your job, for the flat tire, for losing a loved one, for losing the election, for the illness, for the struggles.
Giving thanks for the “obvious” stuff is totally worthwhile. And here’s how to say hurray for the tough stuff, too.
Giving Thanks for the Tough Stuff
Step 1: Reflect & feel
When I think of things I’m grateful for, some amazing things come up: my health, my husband, my family, my cat, my able body, my loving heart, travel opportunities, creating a job I love, working with fantastic women and wonderful brands… the things that don’t easily come up, though, are often the things for which I “should” be truly grateful. A few examples from my recent history:
- Feeling sick and staying in bed for most of September
- The shock and awe at the results from our recent presidential election
- Losing a friend to a tragic accident, and watching one of my best friends grieve for him
These are three of literally thousands of tough things I endured this year. And I’m reflecting on them with purpose. Not just to drudge up my sadness or anger, but to allow myself to fully feel into those things. Many times, I go through the tough stuff and get upset for a moment, and then push those feelings aside. Tough feelings are inconvenient. They take up too much time and get in the way of my productivity. They are uncomfortable and not fun. I would take those feelings and put them into “The Feelings Closet”, out of sight and to be dealt with another time. Every time something would come up, I would put another feeling in the closet. It would get fuller and fuller, until one day I would go to put another feeling in there, and when I opened the metaphorical door, my feelings would come metaphorically crashing down on me, leaving me in a metaphorical mess. In reality, I would completely lose control and feel all of those feelings at once, lashing out or crying for a whole day.
Sound like you, too?
Allowing yourself to really reflect on the tough stuff and to really feel your feelings around it is super important. They are your feelings. They are valid. And they count. Keep in mind, you don’t have to unpack them all at once. Just choose one at a time. Create the space to reflect and feel every now and then, not just when your closet gets packed. Let yourself cry, dance out your anger, run to release rage, breathe through your anxiety.
Step 2: Have some perspective
OK, now that you’ve acknowledged something tough, and how you really feel about it, it’s time to have some perspective. This one is really tough. Because our ego wants to defend us, to keep us safe, and to play victim a lot. So I like to have some perspective for the tough stuff. I ask questions like:
- In the grand scheme of my entire life, how does this stack up?
- In the entirety of the world, how big is this problem?
- A few years ago, how would I have dealt with this issue? Have I grown since then?
- Thinking beyond myself, how does holding on to this hurt affect those around me at work, at home, or in the world?
- Am I in grave, immediate danger because of this issue?
The point isn’t to tell yourself “Look, stupid, you shouldn’t even be upset about this because people are starving in the world and have real problems.” That’s not exactly a loving thing to do, and love is always the answer. The point is to take yourself out of the immediate upset and your own world and find a way to release the defensive, victimized, fearful response for something more productive. Keep reading.
Step 3: Change your perspective
OK now that we have found some perspective for this tough stuff in the grand scheme of things, let’s change the perspective a bit, shall we? The idea here is to find compassion and understanding for yourself, for others, for the world.
A few questions to get you started:
- What was going on in the other person who upset me? Were they dealing with fear, upset, or confusion themselves?
- How did this tough stuff help me grow? To what opportunity did it point me?
- How has this tough thing changed me for the better? What have I learned?
- For what step up in my life has this situation prepared me?
- How can this icky thing inspire me to take bolder or more loving steps?
This may take more time than the first two steps. Change takes time sometimes. And, it is almost always uncomfortable while you go through it. The good news, though, is that change – in almost all its forms – brings you through to an improved and more aware state. Hurray!
Step 4: Forgive and give thanks
When you change your perspective, it becomes a bit easier to forgive. Both yourself and others. You may not be able to forget, and you may still believe that the situation was very tough to go through. That’s ok. But finding even an ounce of forgiveness, understanding, and compassion is most likely going to serve you best.
One of the most profound practices I’ve started since working with a coach is self forgiveness. I’m not kidding. The first few times she coached me in this practice I couldn’t even get the words out. I was so overcome with emotion. Now, I set aside time to practice this, and I find myself infusing a quick version of the practice into my day every now and then. Like with anything, the more you practice something, the easier and more useful it becomes.
Here’s my version of this practice:
- Ask yourself what story you are telling yourself around this tough stuff – about yourself or others. Ex: I made up that being sick was keeping me from being productive, and that not being productive meant I wasn’t working hard enough or getting enough done.
- If you find that some of the things you’re saying to yourself around these upsets is not very kind, ask yourself if it’s really true.
- If it’s not, forgive yourself or the other person for the misunderstanding, and set a new intention. Ex: “I lovingly forgive myself for the misunderstanding that being sick makes me unproductive, and being unproductive makes me worthless. It’s not true. What is true is that my body works hard to support me and the hard work I do, and it needs my caring attention, nourishment, and rest. And, I have a team I can practice delegating to, and leaning on. And for that, I am so thankful.”
I can’t guarantee that following these steps will turn your tough stuff into blessings, but I have seen it work. Both for myself and for others. I have many more examples of this, and I’m especially interested in hearing yours!
Your Turn: What tough stuff are you letting drag down your gratitude list? Where would it serve you to find compassion and understanding? Have you seen an example of something tough turning into a blessing? Want to try putting your tough stuff through the four steps above? If you do, report back here!
Photos and style notes: The photos in this post were taken by Becky Yee during the #HurrayVacay in Guatemala. I’m wearing two different cozy sweaters from Hanro, jeans from NY & Co., sandals from Ipanema, sunglasses from Marshall’s, and either a white tank or “Queen of Vacation” t-shirt from H&M.