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How to Practice Gratitude Without Denying Reality

A thankful mindset does not involve denying reality.

Pretending that the stress of life transitions or daily challenge doesn’t exist is not a healthy coping strategy.  Ignoring reality will likely lead to greater frustration.  Your reality is true and meaningful, it exists, and while it’s important to acknowledge it there is still room for appreciation.

Practicing gratitude does not erase your circumstances but it can offer the opportunity to navigate with a more positive approach and create a lighter perspective. Cultivating a thankful mindset is much like building a strong foundation to weather the inevitable storms of life.  Bad weather is a natural part of our environment, much like challenge and stress is a natural part of your life. 

Simple, yet impactful, ways to practice gratitude without denying reality.

1. Journal

The historical picture of journaling is some middle school aged girl feverishly penning her woes of unreciprocated crushes and parents who don’t understand.  But the reality is that journaling doesn’t have to be limited to expelling frustrations or an activity restricted to teenagers of the ‘90s.  Journaling can be accomplished in whatever form feels most comfortable for you.

You might enjoy writing things down or you may prefer dictating your thoughts.  Hardbound, sparkly covers might be your thing or the notes app in your phone may do the job just fine.  And while letting the negative out can be cathartic and quite helpful, try balancing it out with an intentional note of gratitude for what you have, no matter how small it may seem or how bleak the situation.

When my father was sick with cancer, it was a long process and one where I felt incredibly helpless.  The reality was that he was dying and that was not going to change.  Despite that awful reality, I needed a daily reminder of the good to keep going.  I began making a list in the notes app of my phone each time I left the hospital – a flexible and understanding boss that gave me the gift of time to sit by my father’s hospital bed, the hospice nurses who were so gifted in delivering comfort, the winter weather that held out and allowed us all to travel to the hospital every day without event.

Physically writing down these small moments of gratitude didn’t change the reality, but it did allow me to literally “see” the good. 

2. Reframe

Your surroundings, whether at work or home, may not always yield the most optimal conditions. The reality is that both environments can be stressful in different ways. I live in a house with three 13-year-olds and 3 dogs.  It’s loud.  There are moments where all dogs are barking and every child feels the need to watch TikTok at the highest volume possible.  Add in a TV in the background, doorbells ringing, dryer buzzers blaring and I’m reaching for the Advil.

 Yes, I sometimes lose my cool with the noise, it can feel constant and draining.  But when I intentionally pause and focus on where we are in life, it hits me – we have less than five years until the kids are off to college.  Five years will go by in the blink of an eye.  And then I’ll be missing the noise. 

All that racket means our house is filled with family, friends, pets and love. Time is not promised, nor something we’ll ever get back.  As a mom who shares custody, time with my children is already limited.  Learning to hear the noise with a reframed perspective, one with appreciation, helps me value our chaos differently. 

I still take the Advil though!

3. Reach out

Things may not be going as well as you would like them to be, but the simple act of reaching out to show appreciation is a double-dip into the realm of practicing gratitude – because what you put out you tend to attract back.  You have people that you care about – family and friends, coworkers, classmates, neighbors and even acquaintances.

Take a moment, whether via text, in passing or even dropping a card in the mail to let your circle know you are grateful for them or something they did.  Sharing your appreciation is an opportunity for you to lift others up while also reminding yourself of the valuable relationships and resources in your life.

Shifting focus to sharing appreciation during the tough times may open more opportunities to get through whatever it is that’s weighing you down.

Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to feel forced, overwhelming or fraudulent. 

A thankful mindset will emerge simply by becoming more observant.  Notice opportunities here and there to incorporate some of the mindset behaviors above on a routine basis.  It may not change the reality of the situation, but a thankful mindset will provide countless benefits to your perspective and your ability to navigate more difficult moments.