Thankful for Trouble

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It can often seem easy to be thankful for the things we want in life, but it’s much more difficult to find gratitude during the tough times. If you think about moments in your life when you express gratefulness, they are typically during times of joy or celebration: you made it through college to graduate with all honors; you finally met the man of your dreams, and you are planning to spend the rest of your lives together; your son hit the game-winning shot for his team to win the championship; you landed your dream job and are climbing your way up the corporate ladder.

You may not be able to claim the same level of thanks when you’re facing negative situations: you lose your job and suddenly find yourself in a difficult financial state; someone you thought truly cared for you left you with nothing but memories and a broken heart; your car runs out of gas on the highway when you’re already running late to work; you or someone you know is diagnosed with cancer. Simply put, life is hard. But troubled times don’t necessarily have to lead to disgruntled mindsets and outlooks.

Jim Burns, the president of HomeWord, a non-profit that provides education and resources for parents and churches to ensure their families are focused on honoring God, says he has noticed that people who complain often in life tend to struggle more in finding happiness than those who have more appreciative dispositions.

“In studying thankfulness, I've learned that thankfulness is a key [that] unlocks your depressive emotions,” Burns said. “You cannot be both thankful and depressed at the same time. They are opposite emotions. You can be sad, hurt or angered and still be thankful; but you can't be depressed and still be thankful.”

If you are able to find even the slightest thing about which to be thankful, especially during those rough patches, then you are more likely to find joy and not be stuck in a perpetual state of misery. But, the more you harp on the misfortune you have without expressing gratitude, the more discontent you will allow yourself to be. After all, according to Burns, the ability to be thankful goes beyond whatever situations you are dealt—it’s your attitude you have when you encounter those trials in life that will trigger the change.

If you find it challenging to develop a grateful attitude in a not-so-positive situation, you are not alone. Start small, making concerted efforts to focus on what could make you grateful. The loss of your job allows you to focus on what you really want to do in life. Getting through your broken heart will make you stronger in the long run. Running out of gas allowed you some extra prayer time. Your cancer diagnosis made you realize just how precious life is and how each day should be full of as much love as possible.

It will certainly be difficult to be thankful in every moment, but it’s an effort worth making. Your time on earth is limited, and the more thankfulness and happiness you allow yourself to have, the more meaningful and enjoyable your time will be.