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#5: Recognize and Embrace the Positive - Even in Hard Times

The challenges of our lives, though hard to endure, often contain hidden gifts that can benefit us for years afterward - and this current crisis is no exception.  We can seek and find things to be grateful for, even in our most difficult circumstances.  That attitude of gratitude can help transform tragedy into triumph, despair into hope, and anxiety into comfort.  Cultivating our ability to be grateful is one of the simplest but most powerful things we can do to strengthen our emotional wellness - even in our most challenging times. 

Finding the Positive Doesn't Always Come Easy

It's easy to be grateful when things are going well for us - when we feel loved, safe, and well-fed; when our futures look bright, and our finances seem secure.  Gratitude is much more difficult when things are not going well for us.  It's hard to see the good in things, when everything seems to be falling apart all at once, or when our best efforts seem to yield no visible benefits or us or for others.

Reach Sunlight 425But in such disappointing times, it is even more important, for our emotional wellbeing, that we strengthen our capacity to recognize and embrace the good things in our lives - however small they might be.  

A single tiny star is enough to give crucial light in a dark night sky.   A single tiny blossom in early spring is enough to provide a cheering flash of color to a bleak landscape. If we will look for the small daily miracles in our lives, we will always find what we need to get us through each day - even if the larger hoped-for miracle doesn't occur in the way we might have hoped. 

Recognizing the positive is an ability we can cultivate gradually and intentionally over the process of time - just as we might strengthen a muscle by exercising it day by day. At times, there may be growth pains involved in the process.  But developing our ability to be grateful, even in hard times, is a skill that can serve us throughout our lives - increasing our resilience, and providing a steady anchor even through our stormiest seasons of life. 

A Gratitude Journal - One of the Most Time-Honored Strategies for Strengthening Positivity

One of the simplest but most powerful ways to capture the good things in our lives is - to begin and then maintain a gratitude journal.   This is a technique frequently recommended by counselors, life coaches, and others to help people strengthen this crucial capacity to notice and build upon the good.

The technique for keeping a gratitude journal is simple.  Here's the process, in a nutshell:

Today I Am Grateful425STEP 1: Acquire a gratitude journal.  This might be a specially designed gratitude journal, like the one pictured here.  Or, you can just use a standard notebook with lined paper.  It's better to use a physical journal rather than just a record you keep electronically - but do what works best for you. 

STEP 2: Every day, add at least 3 entries.  You can either jot these down over the course of day, as they occur; or you can write them all in your gratitude journal at the end of each day. Your entries can include:

  • Natural beauties: a warming sunrise; a colorful rainbow; a wild deer you saw on your afternoon hike; cheering flowers you saw in the garden plot in front of your workplace, etc.
  • Kind acts from other people: Notice and appreciate kind things that others do for you.  This might be family members, neighbors, coworkers, or even social media contacts.  It might even be someone you haven't formally met yet, like the person who smiles at you and says hello while you're out walking; or the stranger who stops your toddler from running into the street. Notice and write down these small kindnesses.  Better yet, express thanks to those who are kind to you, either verbally or in written form.That will increase their joy and happiness, as well as yours.
  • Your own accomplishments and triumphs (even the small ones).  Give yourself credit for the good things you do each day.  Even if your biggest victory today was taking a walking around the block, or cleaning out a small drawer - write it down, and take joy in what you've accomplished.  Those  small victories pave the way for the larger ones, and can bring a greater sense of satisfaction in your own actions.
  • Inspiring or uplifting words:  You might find these in an insightful verse during your morning Bible study, or on a billboard or bumper sticker while driving to work, or even in a funny meme that someone posts on Facebook!  Be on the lookout for words that can lift your spirits and give you hope - and write them down, to preserve their positive impact day by day. 

Journal Closeup crop 400STEP 3: Review your entries at least weekly.  Go back and read what you've written, to remind yourself of the accumulating positives in your life.  Often Sunday is a good day to do this, when the pace is slower and you have more time for quiet reflection.  As you review, look for patterns in the good things that are filling your life day by day.  Each time you review them, you give these good things ever-increasing power to cheer you up and comfort your heart.

STEP 4: Share a message of hope with others.  As you start to see the positive things in your life more consistently, don't keep the good news to yourself!  Share what you've learned with others, to lift their spirits also with the things you're observing and learning.  By spreading joy and comfort to them, you increase still further the impact of those positives in your own life.

By following these 4 simple steps, you can keep a record that can build your capacity for gratitude and joy in the present, and that can continue to be a source of perspective and comfort throughout your lifetime - for you, and for those around you.  Even on your hardest days - especially  on your hardest days - look for and record the good things.  It will shore you up, put a smile on your face, and help you be an influence for good - even in challenging times.