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The Power of Gratitude When Times Are Hard

Gratitude, in the face of difficulty, can be a much harder practice to maintain than in the context of everyday life.

However, it’s during challenging times that saying thank you can be an even more powerful tool for help and change.

The old cliché that says, “When Life gives you lemons, make lemon-aid,” is essentially a form of gratitude. It’s a way of reframing the sour parts of your life into something palatable. 

Scientific studies show people who practice gratitude during hard times have…

  • Improved resilience from stress and upset
  • Better patience and composure in the face of trauma and everyday anxieties. They slow down and breathe before responding or reacting
  • A stronger, healthier immune system
  • Regulated emotions that are less reactive

Below are a few ideas to help keep your perspective centered so gratitude can become a routine response.

10 Powerful Benefits of Saying ‘Thank You’ in Tough Times

1. Let the difficult times teach you

Looking back on the difficult circumstances in your life, ask yourself, “Am I better for it?” 

Growing through difficult times shows you are a student of life, and giving thanks for that growth shows the universe you trust its path. 

This can be a powerful practice because you’re offering your gratitude upfront.  You are trusting the lessons within this circumstance and acknowledging you can grow from them, just as you have done in the past.

2. Fewer expectations

Having expectations is a normal, human condition we all share.  At the same time, expectations can often get us into trouble.

Saying thank you when your expectations are not met and you’re hurt and disappointed, can remind you of your expectations in the first place.  

It can also redirect your opinion of what happens with better, more accurate information should you find yourself in this circumstance again.

3.  Appreciation

A quick mental turn-around when you’re troubled is to stop and appreciate the luxury you live in, no matter how humble. You can always appreciate the abundance of products, freedoms, and health available to you.

4.  Simplicity and order

How many times have you “thought yourself” into being overwhelmed? 

It’s easy to get lost in the “busy-ness,” convincing yourself you have little or no time for the most basic things. 

Gratitude, during these times, can help you deal with the here and now.  You can see what’s most important, prioritize your tasks, write them down, and leave them on paper. 

The feeling of order and simplicity are beautiful benefits of this practice.

5.  Perspective

The contrast between a difficult circumstance and happier times is defined as “perspective.”  

We see perspective in our everyday life with colors, shadows, and the changing seasons.

Winter may be cold and barren, but winter also offers the most beautiful sunrises and snow-capped scenery that no other season offers. 

Reframing your perspective to find beauty is a form of gratitude that the Universe responds to with encouragement and perseverance.

6.  The feeling of expansion

When you’re in the middle of a difficult situation, you tend to focus only on that one circumstance. 

Giving thanks can shift your world from a small blanket to a much larger tapestry, and its feeling of vastness can be felt immediately.

7.  Eliminate the “snowball effect”

We’ve all experienced hard circumstances coming at us one after the other.  It feels as though the universe is ganging up on us and where the expression, “When it rains it pours” came from.   

Offering gratitude with each difficulty that comes your way can minimize and even stop the successive momentum of the negativity. This can lead to loosening your grip and letting go a little more.

8.  Stop complaining for 3 days

Ever find yourself complaining more when you are in the middle of a challenging situation?

You’re not alone.

Complaining incessantly about a problem versus working through a problem with integrity and patience, is a form of true character. 

Complaining also runs the risk of sending the wrong message to the universe, which may give you more of what you are complaining about. 

When we respond with humility, curiosity, and the willingness to learn, we open ourselves up to help and support from others.   

Having a brave conversation with yourself or a trusted friend is good and healthy, just don’t belabor it. 

9.  Accept that some situations are beyond your control

A situation beyond your control can be one of the hardest wisdoms to accept.   

Giving thanks can remind us that we can only control our response to what is happening and nothing more.

10. An opportunity to re-evaluate your life

We usually only take a closer look at our lives when we’ve reached the end of our rope or are close to it. 

Re-evaluating your circumstance shows you are a student willing to learn and do better.   

This is a perfect time to stop, become present, ask the universe for help, and listen. 

Listen to your heart because your heart speaks the truth.

When you replace, “Why is this happening to me?” to

“What is this trying to teach me?” 

Everything shifts.

 – Author Unknown

MantraBand Gratitude

Meditations of Gratitude for Hard Times

  • I have faith that the wisdom within my difficult circumstance will be revealed to me when I am ready.  Thank you for the opportunity to trust. 
  • I have the courage to be still so I can fully understand my circumstances.  Thank you for this opportunity to re-evaluate my life. 
  • I trust that the process of this difficult situation will help shape the person I am meant to be. Thank you for trusting me to learn and grow.      
  • My circumstance is giving me perspective. Thank you for trusting me to choose my own path.    
  • My disappointment and hurt come from my own expectations. Thank you for reminding me to let go without judgment.     
  • Thank you for the opportunity to see, know, and be thankful for all the good in my life. 
  • My focus cannot seem to go beyond my difficult circumstance and I feel overwhelmed.  Thank you for opening my eyes to prioritize my tasks, write them down, and see the bigger tapestry of my life. 
  • I know that life ebbs and flows. I see this in the ocean tide, the summer days moving into autumn, or sunrise and sunsets. Thank you for gently reminding me that “this too shall pass.”

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

-Eckhart Tolle

Giving thanks during a hard time is the highest form of respect you can offer the universe and yourself.  It’s your humble and simple way of trusting the universe while in confusion and hurt.  

Gratitude can reframe your difficulties into light, so be ready to receive all the good and abundance life has to offer you!


Ryan Fehr, an associate professor of management and Michael G. Foster Endowed Fellow at the UW Foster School of Business.
University of California Psychology Professor Dr. Robert Emmons and author of the book, Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.