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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Being Grateful When Times Are Tough

Feeling gratitude is a core piece of a brain healthy life. There is much written about it, and many suggestions of how to do it properly. And even though we understand the importance of gratitude, there are times when life has kicked you down and refuses to let you up. Can we fake it until we make it?

There is no doubt that feeling grateful is so much easier when life is in flow. You feel good, the family is well, the job is fantastic and life is a bowl of cherries. You could write a gratitude list with no hesitation. But what do you do when your kids have been sick, a family member dies, your furnace needs to be replaced – or a host of other problems just keep coming one after the other. Life just doesn’t have that happiness sheen when times are tough. How do you find a way to feel grateful?

How do you find a way to feel grateful?

An important point to remember is that gratitude is not frivolous – it is a coping strategy. Gratitude lifts our spirits and floods our brain with dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Serotonin plays a large part in mood regulation and anxiety. It seems logical that we need to get these neurotransmitters flowing and gratitude will do that.

You can not fake it until you make it however. Gratitude is an emotion and you must feel it in order to get the brain response. Our brain has the capacity to rewire itself. We have to recognize a positive experience that we can feel grateful about. We must change the way we think. When we consistently and repetitively recognize something to be grateful about in any situation – our brain will respond. We will be more drawn to awareness of the positive side of things instead of dwelling on the negative side of life. Sounds easy doesn’t it!

Steps to experiencing gratitude when times are tough

· Make a list – but keep it simple.

When you are looking for something to be grateful for - make a list. The list doesn’t need to be long because you are only going to concentrate on one thing to be grateful about. When you select one thing you can emotionally invest yourself in it.

· Start with any little thing.

When you are struggling – find any little thing that is working for you: your breath, food to eat, a place to sleep. These may be items that you take for granted but this exercise is to recognize what they bring to your life and feel grateful about that. By acknowledging and noticing these small things – you can shift your ability to better deal with the challenges in your life.

· Get up and help someone else.

In case you haven’t noticed our world is quite chaotic. There are major catastrophes as well as close to home problems. Take a close look at what other people are going through and it might make the picture very clear – no matter what, you have a lot to be grateful about. The widespread losses in property and life in the wildfires of California makes anything I am going through completely minor. When I watch survivors express gratitude that they are alive – I am so grateful for the life I live.

We can always be in a place where we can help someone else. Our dopamine will be pumping with gusto. We will feel terrific.

· Focus on the ‘Why’.

Concentrate on why you are grateful. In a gratitude journal – write why you are grateful for each item on your gratitude list. You are attaching meaning and emotion to the words you have written. You have to experience this emotion. When you write why you are grateful, your brain is more apt to reap the benefits of gratitude.

· Do one thing you are good at.

In the midst of our lives we get so buried by life. At that time – go do something you are good at. When we can’t get anything done to completion – we feel worse about ourselves. We can’t get anything done. But, when we accomplish something our mood improves (flowing serotonin). We understand that we can move forward based on the talents we possess. Those positive feelings will enhance our brain. We will regain a sense of confidence and at that time we will be grateful for getting to that point. Remember, gratitude is a coping strategy and helps us survive when we didn’t think we could.


Campbell, P. (November 25, 2014). Gratitude in tough times. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from

Young, G. (January 21, 2016). How to be grateful when times are tough. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from

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