By Christine Hill
Gratitude has a powerful effect on our lives. It can enable us to live more wholeheartedly, make us be more proactive, and lift our mood every day. However, there are times in life when it’s particularly hard to feel grateful. I’m talking about those days when you feel like you’ve just been sent through the wringer, when you can barely face getting out of bed, when you’re battered and beaten.
Trials and adversity are hard to be grateful for. However, they’re an essential part of our lives, and only when we embrace trials can we turn them into opportunities for growth. Holocaust survivor and Austrian humanist Victor Frankl said, “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.”
Embracing Trials Enables Us to Act
I think that in our society, we’ve become so risk-adverse that we shy away from our true ambitions because we’re scared of the attached trials. It makes us afraid to commit to a relationship, work for a promotion, have kids, or even pick a major. Suffering can kill happiness, but avoiding suffering at all costs is a surefire way to avoid happiness, too.
Think of it like shopping; if your entire wardrobe is only made up of things that only cost a couple dollars, how good is it? What if instead of being concerned about the cost, you were willing to sacrifice a little, to invest something into something because it was high quality? What if you were willing to go through a little hardship in order to achieve great joy?
When We’re Grateful for Trials, We Benefit from Them
It’s true that no one likes pain. However, you have a choice whenever you’re confronted with a difficult situation. You can stew in it and let it cripple you, or you can learn from it.
Kelly McGonigal makes a vivid illustration of how we deal with trials in her talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” Her research shows that although stress can increase likelihood of disease and death, it only works that way with people who believe that stress is bad for them. Those who believed that stress could be a tool to help them achieve and motivate them to change were actually healthier, no matter how stressed they were.
Trials work much the same way. We can either decide that they’re there to break us down, and shudder under the weight of the burdens placed on us, or we can have faith in our own ability to handle them and learn to turn them into strengths.
How Can We Learn to Become Grateful for Adversity?
Write down the hardest times in your life in the past, how they’ve changed you and what you’ve learned from them. This will help you to see the benefit that trials have had in the past, and help you face future trials with hope and confidence.
Make a list of the people you admire the most and brainstorm the things that shaped them. No one becomes an admirable person without battling their way through a crucible of adversity.
Tell yourself you’re strong enough for what comes. Don’t try to tell yourself it’s easy, tell yourself you’re enough. Discounting the challenge doesn’t make anyone feel better. However, trusting in your own inner strength will help you develop the attributes you need in order to overcome the adversity.
Embrace change as an essential attribute of everyone’s life.
Ask yourself, if you were a book, what would you want to happen next? Every single story follows a simple format: character receives trials, character overcomes them. There’s no development without adversity. So how good of a story would your life make?
Avoid asking “why is this happening to me?” Instead, ask yourself, “what can I learn from this?”
Serve others. Sometimes, that’s the only good that we can find from our trials. But it’s amazing when you find that your experience can enable you to help others who are struggling with something similar. It’s like becoming a sponsor in an addiction recovery program, or becoming a grief counselor after experiencing it yourself. Serving others helps us make sense of our own challenges.
Did you know that there are certain sweetness receptors in your tongue that are only activated when there’s also salt present? That’s right, there are some levels of sweetness that you can only taste when there’s also bitter.