Your gain: Discover why practicing gratitude during a loss is important in healing from your journey of loss, and find tools to help you find and practice gratitude during times of struggle.
Let’s be real, the last thing you probably want to do while you’re grieving is feel grateful. Or practice feeling grateful. Or hear someone tell you to be grateful. Why? Because you’re probably not feeling super grateful, right? I GET you.
So here’s what I’m going to do. If you’re in the thick of your grief right now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you to be grateful. Well, that’s not true… I am. But what I’m going to give you, and what I want you to give yourself, is time and grace. Let’s just start there… and hear me out on the rest.
Why Gratitude Is Important During Loss
The more space you allow yourself to feel gratitude, the more you’ll want to let it in. You’ve lost something, and there will be days where you’ll feel the need to fill that gaping hole. I want for you to do this in the healthiest way possible. If you take anything away from this entry, it’s this: fill the emptiness with gratitude.
You’re probably pretty upset, mad, discouraged, heartbroken, depressed, confused, lost, unsure… the list goes ON. These emotions aren’t exactly gratitude inducing though, amitire? Hang with me.
The Truth Bomb
I’m going to impart a little wisdom and a wild truth bomb on you here, though. I learned this through a Tone It Up! meditation that Karena Dawn hosted on their Tone It Up! app, which she heard from a TED Talk from Mel Robbins. Karena said that scientists have done studies, and “the probability of you even existing, of being born… the chances of you being here right now, breathing and living, is one in 400 trillion. Scientists have done studies with the odds of our parents’ meeting, or even our ancestors surviving war, even research all the way back to the dinosaurs.”
Take a moment and really think about that. Think about all that has happened over the course of history. It’s NO mistake that you were born and that you’re here right now. Is that not something to be grateful for?! Is that not a BEAUTIFUL, mind-boggling statistic? Do you know how lucky we all are to be here? I mean, come on!
So when you’re feeling despair… when you’re feeling hopeless and empty and beaten down… pause. Just pause. Take a beat, and then take a breath. Follow that breath with two more big breaths. In through your nose for four counts, out through your mouth for four counts. Just start there. Because gratitude comes from presence. It’s about noticing the beauty in and around us. It’s about acknowledgment. Noticing even the most minute things and thanking them for their purpose and what they bring to your existence.
Thank the Little Things
I’m serious here… thank your pillow for the comfort it provides your neck at night. There are people without pillows or even a bed out there. Thank the book you’re reading for inspiring you (and if you’re not feeling inspired, choose a different book!). There are people without access to a good education, or even something as common as a book.
Give thanks to your favorite sweatshirt for keeping you cozy, a piece of art that brings you joy. Thank good quality water for quenching your thirst and fresh air for feeding your lungs. Look at the things around you, acknowledge their presence in your life and how they make you feel, and thank them. If there’s something that’s around you that doesn’t spark joy or gratitude, explore what it would look like to remove it from your life and go from there.
Thank the Big Things
This one is important, because funny enough I find these are the most often overlooked. I have a couple of personal examples to share and, if you’ve ever been through a wedding planning process, you may relate. As much as I love how our weddings turned out (we had two ceremonies), there were a handful of things that, simply put, frustrated the heck out of me. There were also things that happened that downright hurt my feelings.
One instance was only two members of my mom’s family attending either wedding—my mom’s step mom who she always remained close with (as am I), and her husband… both I consider to be like blood grandparents to me. Otherwise, not one person could make it. Frankly, it was offensive at first. Not that some of them didn’t acknowledge our nuptials or have good reasons for not being able to come. Some absolutely did, and even so, that’s not really the point. Some, on the other hand… didn’t.
The point is I internalized their decision and their reasons, took it personally, and didn’t feel grateful. In fact, a dark thought crossed my mind. I thought, “what if my mom was still here? Would they have made more of an effort because they were closer to her and could have seen her while they visited?”. Pretty sad, I know, but it’s how I felt.
In giving them and their not making it to the weddings the power, it took away the gratitude I had for the people that could come and were excited to do so.
Another instance was with someone that was supposed to be a bridesmaid. In fact, she was supposed to be a bridesmaid in both ceremonies originally, and neither worked out. I won’t dive into the nitty-gritty details in this entry, nor is that really the important part here.
It ultimately continued to come down to a lack in communication and, I feel, an understanding of each other. As similar as she and I can be, and as far back as our friendship goes, we do have some differences in how we handle things. The expectations on both a bridesmaid level and a human-to-human level were just off somehow.
I have an entire piece on coping with unmet expectations I would LOVE for you to check out if this is something you are, or ever have, dealt with. Check that out below! In fact, I feel like it’s one of the most important but never-enough talked about subjects that can really take a toll on us if we don’t know how to manage it.
Point being, in dealing with all of these stressful situations, that became my focus. The entire week leading up to our wedding in Italy when I wasn’t hearing from that friend, each day that went by I became sadder and sadder. More stressed. More resentful. Which, let me tell you, is a dark place to be.
Gratitude After Rejection
I allowed the actions of others to take over and take away from my gratitude. It took away from the fact that my husband and I were finally getting married in my favorite country EVER, and this trip would be a living, breathing dream of ours. It took away from the people who were making the effort to fly all the way there and schlep out to the middle of Tuscany. You get it.
But I felt rejected in a way, ya know? I couldn’t understand why these people I know and love were treating me this way.
It’s hard to feel grateful after rejection, right? Instead of holding on to it, I worked (hard… it took a while) on releasing it and focused more on how I could learn something from it. About myself, others, and how I handle myself and less than desirable situations I’m put in.
I channeled that sadness and frustration into having a healthier mindset. Understanding that it probably had less to do with me than I thought, and finding closure despite not really receiving any from them directly. Why? Because you can only control your own actions.
Learn, grow, and evolve. How will your losses challenge you and what will you decide to learn from it?
Finding Gratitude in Your Time
Once I had a come to Jesus moment thanks to a friend, I let it go. But guess what? It took time. I had to get there on my own time and my own terms. One of the many things I’ve found about discovering gratitude is that it’s hard to force. It’s so easy to say to someone, “there are children dying all over the planet from horrible diseases, just be grateful!” Yes, unfortunately, that’s absolutely correct. But that won’t make you (or someone you may want to say that to) automatically feel grateful at the drop of a hat.
I want to be clear: just because there can be sad and horrible things going on all over the world, that doesn’t take away from the grief and loss you’re feeling within your journey. I simply encourage you to allow those things to give you perspective.
Gratitude can take work, especially when you’ve experienced a form of loss. You might have to try a little harder to find it than others. Maybe really hard. Practicing gratitude looks a lot different for someone going through a difficult time than someone doing “well”.
That’s okay, you’re entitled to that. What I hope for you is that you do get there. Work at it and embrace it. Honestly, you have to. You have to in order to live with some semblance of peace and acceptance. To understand why what happened, happened. So much of your healing will come with filling your gaps with gratitude. So, let’s help you get there.
Tools for Finding Gratitude
I’ve already talked about thanking (whether out loud or to yourself) both small and big things around you. You can do this however you feel comes naturally to you, but here are a few ways to consider if you’re feeling unsure about where to start.
Start with Three Things
Begin with just three things you’re grateful for each day. When I do this, I like to not only look at what’s around me but also think a little bigger than that. Even though this practice is really for being and staying present, I do occasionally cheat and look to my past… but for good reason. The three things I’m grateful for might look like the following in my journal:
- The birds chirping outside and the hummingbirds at our feeders
- My new candle which makes the house smell like pumpkin spice
- Beautiful childhood memories with my parents on backroad we always used to walk on together
- My workout that made me feel strong and motivated this morning
- Going for a walk after work today to get some fresh air
- My fleece blanket for keeping me warm last night
Last one, because there’s an important twist in here…
- Getting to go to our Accountant’s office today so we can take another step to close out the probate process for my parents’ estate
- The roof over my head
- Going out to dinner with a friend this evening
#1 in that last one is actually something that has happened to me. Not many people look forward to going to their CPA, right? Truthfully, as nice as the guy is, I don’t. There’s so much about dealing with my parent’s estate that I was poorly equipped for. They don’t teach you how to lose both your parents in six months school, guys!
It’s exhausting and taxing (no pun intended) and confusing. But after each meeting, after each email back and forth with the estate lawyer, I’m that much closer to closing the chapter of darkness that surrounded me in those earlier days. I’m that much closer to eliminating the stress that surrounded my losses, and that much closer to finding more peace than I already have.
Truly, the options are endless for where you can find gratitude. It can be a tangible item, a memory, a feeling, an activity, a moment, something you are/have/will experience, the list goes on. Acknowledging the things that bring small slivers of joy into your life, little by little, is a step that I promise will bring your soul healing.
What You “Have” To Do vs. What You “Get” To Do
Speaking of “get to” statements… have you ever woken up and thought, “alright, what do I have to do today?”. Like the ho-hum of daily life awaits you. Then proceed to go through a mental or physical checklist of exactly that? Yep, you probably have. And sure, maybe there are things you really do have to get done that day. Perhaps an appointment or something you simply can’t procrastinate on any longer. That’s all fine and dandy, but you still have an opportunity to reframe the way you think here.
Practice Reframing Your Mind
What if you woke up and thought, “what do I get to do today?” Kind of has a different feel to it, huh? Kind of feels like there’s a little more excitement and intrigue in there. Like the opportunities are endless and yours for the taking. As if there’s wonder and curiosity baked in.
Well, that’s exactly it! Remember earlier when I gave you that staggering stat about the chances of you being here (that’s 1 in 400,000,000,000 in case you forgot)? Let’s not take that for granted!
You can still have your to-do lists. In fact, I love my agenda and to-do lists. It brings me organization and focus, and I love feeling productive. But I also thrive on creativity, and if there’s something in my schedule that’s ~not~ creative, I’m less likely to find energy in that.
Since we’re only human, it’s not realistic for us to find energy and inspiration in everything. We’re still here enjoying the human existence though, no? Which, if you ask me, is a pretty spectacular thing. Which makes YOU pretty spectacular, too. I mean, you’re 1 in 40 trillion! See every moment and every opportunity as a way to take it in and be grateful for this life.
Even that small reframing in the way you present your day to yourself can have a huge impact on your psyche. Not excited about something? Fine, but consider this: maybe you’ll learn something today. Maybe you’ll meet someone new and interesting. Stumble on a great read in a bookstore or find a new song on Spotify that’ll turn your whole world upside down (for the better).
Perhaps you’ll come across a sweet cashier in a store that’s uncharacteristically friendly and kind. The type where you leave a seemingly mundane grocery store trip a little lighter, and you realize there’s hope for happiness out there. It happens all the time! Open your eyes and heart to it. It’s all there.
Journaling isn’t for everyone, but hear me out because I have a really user-friendly way of doing it if you fall into this category.
First, if you do find you love journaling, all the better and kudos to you. As much as I LOVE writing these posts, sitting down and scribbling my thoughts feels different and isn’t always my jam. But if you have a journal that you can lose yourself in and find that release… keep. it. up. That’s amazing!
Journaling for me comes through this amazing resource I’ve found called “The 5-Minute Journal” by Intelligent Change. I begin my morning with a workout, ideally followed by a meditation, and then do the morning section of this journal. The morning begins with three things you’re grateful for, three things that would make today great, and your daily affirmation. I mean, could you think of a stronger way to get your mind set up for success?
They’ve got you covered for the end of the day, too. You end your evening (I do this right as I’m getting into bed) by noting three highlights of your day, and one thing you learned—though you can certainly write down more!
Since this journal has come into my life, it’s really opened me up to understand the things I was settling or compromising on, what lights a fire in me, and what could use a little love or adjusting. It’s just one tool out there, but I’ve found it helps keep me honest and motivated through the ebbs and flows of life.
Whatever way you consider writing out your gratitude during the day (this can be in a simple notebook, too), I find it really fun to look back on each entry as well. It breathes so much life into what I was doing or thinking or feeling that day, and seeing how far I’ve come in my own practice is something I’m really proud of. I know that’s within you, too!
Practice a Gratitude Ritual
If you’re not a ‘write it out’ kind of guy or gal, fear not. There are plenty of other rituals you can practice that don’t involve writing. If you’re not putting pen to paper, saying your gratitude aloud or mentally within your own space is another perfectly acceptable way of bringing thanks into your life.
For some people, depending on your religious beliefs this could come in the form of prayer. When I was really young and we were more active churchgoers, we would often say grace before a meal. You don’t have to be religious (or make it religious) to express gratitude, though. Now, I can simply be thankful AF for a plateful of Bolognese staring me in the face! Or carrot cake since I’m the carrot cake queen… but I digress.
Food is just one example of something to be grateful for at a particular time, i.e. when you’re about to eat. Perhaps at night before you climb into bed, and you exude gratitude for the warmth and comfort it provides you. Or, in the morning immediately after getting up and you find gratitude for the sun for warming your bones when you look out the window. If you’re anything like me, I need a couple of minutes to wake up first and then get out of bed and show that gratitude… but as long as you show it, you’re golden.
Want a better car but have to stick it out at your job in order to finance one? Find gratitude in your work and that it’s providing you the opportunity to save money to do just that. Lost your job? This one is tricky and a touchy subject, I know. I, too, have lost jobs though, and let me tell you something… that loss has always led to bigger and better things. If not professionally, personally.
It didn’t always feel like it would in the moment, and lord knows I was stressed AF if I wasn’t making money. If this is you right now, I SEE you. Not to get all “miracles happen” on you here, but the universe will help you out in its own way. All I’m asking you to do is put gratitude out there to give it a shot and bring those positive vibes your way.
Figure out a ritual that feels right to you and fits your schedule.
It’s simple, really–put good out there, and the cycle of good will be created and given back to you. Expressing gratitude for something or to someone is all about feeling.
This goes beyond courtesy, manners or being polite (although we all should be!). It comes from the heart in a sincere form of appreciation. For example:
- “It was really nice of you to…”
- “It really helped me out when you…”
- “Thanks for doing me that favor when…”
- “Thanks again for listening when…”
- “I really appreciated it when you…”
- “Thanks for being there when…”
I wish I had done this with my parents more, let me tell you. Even though I know I did this enough for them to feel the love, there’s ALWAYS room for more. This doesn’t have to be over-the-top or mushy if that’s not your vibe, we all have our own ways to say it. By simply saying what we feel in a heartfelt way in a meaningful moment, it can mean a lot. It may even surprise someone and make their day! They may be more motivated to send those good vibrations on to someone else, and so on… catch my drift?
Through Acts of Kindness
You can also express gratitude through an act of kindness, such as an opportunity to pay it forward. Buy the person’s coffee behind you or donate an amount you’re comfortable with to a charity that resonates with you. Or, simply hold a door open or crack a smile as you pass someone on the street. It doesn’t have to cost a thing. Smiles and gestures are free and speak to the soul!
One of my love languages is acts of kindness, so when my husband does something around the house without me asking, I feel seen and appreciated. Take a minute and think about some actions, big or small, you could take to show gratitude to those around you. A call? Text? Even better, a handwritten letter or thank you card?
Speaking of, I just had to share this…
At our Napa wedding, we wrote a thank you card to every single guest and had our planner put them as their place setting at our long, family-style dinner table. When they sat down, we could see everyone opening their card. The smiles and tears those cards evoked were EVERYTHING and made the effort so worth it.
Now, we had 40 guests so while there were still quite a few cards to write, I recognize that’s not nearly as big as some weddings nowadays. I understand how this might not be realistic or could be way too time-consuming depending how big your event is.
If not cards, what other fun ways could you show someone an act of gratitude—wedding or otherwise?
This one is pretty simple, but the more you do it, the more it’ll become your reality and you’ll be getting through your grief in no time. If there are ever moments where you organically feel gratitude, take a pause like I mentioned earlier. Notice and absorb that feeling of pure, genuine gratitude. Let it in and soak that ish UP.
Savoring those things the moment they happen has a funny way of slowing down time for the better, and putting the smallest (or biggest!) of smiles on your face and soul. Pay attention and allow it to warm you up. It’s a super beautiful thing, and it’s also super possible after a loss… believe it or not right now.
Remember your place here is meaningful. Remember you’re a 1 in 400 trillion miracle. Own how badass, strong, and incredible you are.