During a conversation the other day with my parents, who are visiting from California, while catching up on old news, bad news, good news, and no sort of news at all, the conversation took an unexpected turn. While lamenting about a particularly painful topic for me, I became really worked up emotionally. Tears flowing, nose blowing, I got caught up in a negative thought cycle. I felt trapped in my thoughts, and started to feel hopeless that the situation would never change for the better.

 My parents listened compassionately and validated my feelings, (I think some of my counseling skills were inherited), and then my dad very gently suggested that I acknowledge some things for which I am grateful, in spite of the circumstances. At first, I had a difficult time turning my thoughts. As a therapist who believes wholeheartedly in the influence of one’s thoughts on feelings and behavior, his idea made perfect sense to me, so I took a deep breath and began. I was able to come up with many things I am grateful for.

I started with big things, and moved to little things, and whatever size things, just anything I felt grateful for. It didn’t minimize the stress or pain I was feeling about the current circumstance, but it did do something powerful. It maximized my ability to withstand the pain and stress. I felt emotionally stronger. My mental resilience increased a bit. Physically I experienced a surge of energy.

I experienced something else too – a greater sense of hope. Gratitude increases hope. A sense of hope improves our resilience. No matter what is going on, no matter how dark the current circumstance, there is something we can all find to be grateful for. And that something, that one little thing, will bring in some light. Light brings clarity. We need light to see what we are doing. Gratitude is a power source that illuminates hope. It doesn’t stay dark indefinitely.   

Hope whispers, there is always something to be grateful for.

If you are going through a dark time, I want to encourage you to make a list of some things for which you are grateful. Start with little things. As that list of little things grows, it will become a big source of strength and resilience to help you move through your difficulties. The only way out is through, so you have to keep moving. Keep marching forward toward the light of hope.

To help you get started, I have compiled a list of some of the little things I am grateful for: That first cup of coffee in the morning. The lingering scent of pine in the air after it rains. The enthusiastic way my dog greets me when I get home from work. Grace. Family gatherings. The colors of autumn. My adult son saying, “I value your opinion, Mom”. The smell of apple pie baking in the oven. That one pair of unbelievably amazing shoes on the clearance rack in my size. The way my cat curls up on my lap when he knows I’m sad. Acceptance of my imperfections. Dark chocolate. My mom’s hugs. The twinkle of Christmas lights. Memories of happy times with my children. The warm smile from the stranger I pass by on the street. 2-for-1 sales. Warm chocolate chip cookies. A good book. Second chances. Girlfriend getaways. The gurgle of a creek. Faith in a God I can trust. A few extra minutes of sleep. A job I love. Friends I can count on. Forgiveness. Random acts of kindness. The feeling of sand between my toes at the ocean. The pitch black of night because I can see more stars. Bubblebaths.  Laughter. A wise father. Hope.

Actually, when I review my list, many of those things don’t seem so little after all. That just magnifies my gratitude, and multiples my hope. Let’s keep the gratitude conversation going.

What are you grateful for?