How To Feel Grateful No Matter What

Around the holiday season, many of us probably start to notice a shift in gratitude, and feelings of thankfulness start to rush in as another year nears a close. But it's also during this time we often realize the absence of gratitude throughout the year, not just on the days dedicated to it, and at the times we need it most. Where there is struggle, there is silver lining, and through tough times, negative experiences, and lessons learned the hard way, appreciation for life is there to pull us up.

When it feels like we're drowning in the negative, it's hard to find the way out, but for all we have in life, gratitude should remain constant as a guiding light. To rediscover a sense of gratitude and the best ways to do so when the going gets tough, I consulted with parenting expert, educator, and mindfulness and meditation coach Kate Walsh; co-founder of HeySoul Jessie Gardner; Jamie Price, emotional wellness expert and co-founder of Stop, Breathe & Think, the award-winning meditation app; and Dr. Christopher Willard, PsyD, clinical psychologist in Massachusetts and author of "Growing Up Mindful."

As Walsh says, “Simply put, gratitude is the fastest and easiest way to joy. An attitude of gratitude immediately puts out a positive vibration into the universe. When you put that positive energy out there, positive energy comes back to you. If you are feeling down or depressed, try focusing on something that you are grateful for and see what happens. Like a bee spreading pollen from flower to flower, soon there will be a field of gratitude flowers growing around you. Like any habit, recognizing gratitude takes some time."

Here are 11 ways to find gratitude, even in the tough times.

1. Meditation & Introspection

"Be grateful for yourself! In order for you to have a true attitude of gratitude, you have to feel grateful for yourself. Make a list of things you like about yourself. Look in the mirror for a full minute and say them out loud. This isn’t easy, but it works. When you are authentically positive and grateful for yourself, people feel it and it gets reflected back to you. What could be better than that," Walsh tells me via email.

One of the hardest things to do is take time out of our busy days to just sit in solitude and peace, and dedicate a moment to personal reflection. As Walsh says above, introspection and light meditation are key to cultivating gratitude for the self, which is the most authentic place from which to find appreciation for life's gifts.

Gardner suggests yoga as another method to introspection because "it integrates and activates mind, body, and soul. Break a sweat and gain a new perspective as you cleanse the negative mindset." Price adds, "A great way to develop gratitude is by practicing meditation. Try this five-minute gratitude meditation."

2. Give Back & Volunteer

Volunteering is an opportunity to discover appreciation for what you have by time spent with those less fortunate. Gardner suggests, "Get out of the house and do something for others in need. Experience the lives of those that don't have what you have and it won't take long for a new perspective to settle in."

3. Write Down One Thing You Can Be Grateful For Each Day

We don't have to be blessed with some grand prize to feel grateful each day. As Gardner says, "Start small. ... Find your breath. Focus on the fact that you are breathing and alive." Find appreciation for the little things and build up from there.

Walsh adds, "What you focus on grows. It is just as easy to focus on the good as it is to focus on the negative. Shift your focus to what you love about your life, your spouse or your child. Be grateful for the sunshine, the changing colors of the leaves in fall, or the beautiful sunsets. Look for things to be grateful for in your day. Keep it simple and small. Finish these sentences: I am so blessed to… I feel lucky that…"

4. Be Present

"If you can learn to be present with whatever is happening in the moment with a sense of gratitude, you’re better able to handle whatever comes your way, and your sense of happiness and enjoyment will be enhanced. ... Connect face-to-face with someone in a meaningful way. Immerse yourselves in something you like to do together; for example, cook a meal, play a game, get outside for a walk or a hike. Enjoy being fully present and focused on that activity," Price tells me via email.

Don't lose sight of the beauty of the present moment. In the present is where we learn, grow, and make memories to treasure in the future. Enjoy the company of others and the thrill of new experiences, and you'll find peace of mind in how simple it is to be grateful for now.

5. Turn Negative Experiences Into Lessons

"When [recovering] from a bad situation, the challenge becomes understanding that experience is a lesson; pure gold; an experience, relationship or mistake to learn and evolve from. This makes even the worst moments something to respect because they teach us," Gardner explains.

Though it may seem like nothing could be worse in the moment, negative experiences build character, instill values and standards, and leave us with lessons to be learned that help us create better futures. Always choose to walk away from a bad situation with the silver lining in mind.

6. Go On Hiatus From The Media

"It is hard to feel grateful when you are inundated with negativity. Let’s face it: Our news media only focuses on real disasters and the potential for more of them. The truth is the world is full of good people doing amazing things. We just don’t hear enough about them. ... Stop listening to terror alerts, flu breakouts and news of yet another mass shooting. It only fills your heart and mind with fear," Walsh says.

While disconnecting from the media can sometimes feel debilitating as you feel behind on world and local news, as well as what's happening in your friends' lives, it's necessary. Disconnect; feel free from the outside world for a moment.

Consider how your mindset would change if you went a full week without bad news seeping through your television. Imagine a life without scrolling through social media and feeling some type of way about that person whose life you envy.

7. Remember Only You Can Control You

Gardner suggests, "Even if you don't feel it in the moment, tell yourself that eventually you will look back and see [a negative situation] as a learning experience and stepping stone to the next evolution of you. ... Instead of focusing anger or sadness toward the individual or circumstance, honor the power of your thoughts and focus there."

Pull yourself out of body when feel out of control of a given circumstance or situation that falls out of your favor. Not everything is within our control, but we remain in control of who we are, who we want to be, and how we act and react.

"Make [seeking out gratitude] a practice, and it will become a habit, conscious and unconscious, that rewires your perspective," Willard adds.

8. Surround Yourself With Positive People

"If you can't get yourself out of a rut, surround yourself with people you can talk to that will inspire a new perspective," Gardner says. There's no better distraction from a downfall than to be surrounded by loving, supportive people. Share experiences, laughs, and genuine emotion with those who matter most, and you'll quickly find there's much to be grateful for when the going gets tough.

9. Set The Tone For The Life You Want

"[Practicing gratitude] starts to recalibrate our perspective from the negative toward just seeing things as they are, and even noticing the positive. When we practice looking for positive on purpose, we are also doing it unconsciously, shifting our perspective toward the positive, finding unseen opportunities, and more," Willard tells me via email.

From starting small, to growing our list of gratitude, we will find that deep-seated appreciation goes a long way, pouring into every area of life.

Walsh further explains, "Gratitude is the habit that keeps on giving. Get up, brush your teeth, make your bed and feel grateful every day. Put sticky notes on your bathroom mirror that say, 'I am grateful for...' Find a way to start each day with gratitude. I often think about positive things before I get out of bed, that way I am set to begin my day. Another fun thing I do is to send positive loving energy to everyone I see during the day. At the end of the day I am filled with so much joy. It really works."

10. Practice Non-Judgment

According to Walsh, "When you are in gratitude, you are not judging others. People can feel that and it is contagious. When you are grateful for them, they in turn become more grateful for your presence. Have you ever been in a conversation when someone is criticizing another person and you immediately start thinking, 'I wonder what she says about me?' The same is true when you say nice things about people. Everything is energy; what you say has a powerful vibration. Choose your words carefully. Judging others is the opposite of being grateful. I am sure that you can find something to be grateful about for everyone: your difficult boss, your teenager, or your spouse. Judging others is a habit also, just not a good one."

The notion is an easy one to digest, and harder for for some to practice than others. Speak only about others as you wish for others to speak about you, and karma will return the positivity full circle.

11. Practice Thankfulness

"The law of attraction states what you put out will return to you. If you are grateful for what you have in your life, you are going to attract more to be grateful for. This applies across all areas of life. You are more likely to find someone you love if you are grateful because you are more likely to find someone who is grateful and positive. Regarding your career, if you express gratitude toward your colleagues, employees, and clients, it is a critical characteristic of a leader and one that is important for success," Gardner tells me simply.

Put out positive energy and thoughts to receive positive energy and thoughts in return.

Practicing gratitude is easier than we often perceive it to be. Rather than a complicated concept, finding appreciation and gratitude for all we have is the most practical avenue to cultivating the life we want, and it's one we can put to use every day. Even in the toughest times, hold yourself accountable to seeking out the positive, and begin to take note of life happening in your favor.

Images: Chad Madden, Mika Matin, Ben White, Rebecca Ashley, Phil Coffman, Ethan Robertson/Unsplash