For most of us, when life throws us an unexpected curveball, we do not anticipate later feeling grateful for the experience.
Yet, surprisingly, this is exactly what the data suggests.
According to Powell and Garlington, (2012), when studying those who have gone through a traumatic experience, a substantial percentage report at least some positive change as a result of their experience. This isn’t an effect that hasn’t been noticed before, according to Morris, Finch, and Scott (2007), the percentages of people who experience growth in response to a traumatic event outweigh those who experience distress symptoms.
And the most frequently reported area of change? Gratitude.
While some people will report feeling stronger, more spiritual, having deeper more meaningful relationships, or feeling more open to new possibilities, the most commonly reported benefit of the struggle is a greater appreciation of life.
People will recount feeling as if life is more precious and enjoying it much more than before being knocked down. They also say that they take time to enjoy the “life’s little moments” like the smile on a child’s face, a beautiful spring morning, a dramatic sunset, and spending time with loved ones, more than ever before. And they feel grateful for every day in a way that they never did before before.
And a sense of gratitude helps them get through the hard times.
Why? Because for every person who reports a feeling of gratitude, they also reported still struggling with the aftermath of adversity and trauma.
It wasn’t that the distress had gone and been replaced with gratitude. It was that the difficult feelings were still there, accompanied by a deep sense of gratitude. But those who spoke about appreciating life much more, also showed greater aptitude for growth.
It seems that gratitude gave the inclination toward growth — toward taking life’s curveballs and turning them into defining moments of strength — a major boost.
So what can you do to become more grateful?
Start with a list. Every day list five different things you are grateful for.
Then make some connections. Every day, tell at least one person how much you appreciate them.
And finish with an act. Every week do an act of service for another person who might need it.
Because you might just need it as much as they do.
Powell- Garlington, F. (2012). Emergence of discussion of alternative outcomes from exposure to war trauma. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.dico.health.mil
Morris, L., Finch, K., & Scott, F. (2007). Coping and Dimensions of Post Traumatic Growth. The Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, Volume 2007-1, 123-129.