There’s a lot of crap going on in the world, and it’s tempting to throw tantrums and dissolve into a puddle of self-pity.
It feels like the right thing to do because other people need to know how unfair life is, right? Like when we were in second grade and cried until we were red in the face because it got people’s attention, right?
Only you’re not in second grade anymore, and it’s highly debatable whether your tantrums ever worked on anyone except your parents, and they’re the ones who trained you to use tantrums to get their attention in the first place.
So we’re back to unenviable reality that not everything is perfect. Your confidence has taken a hit, maybe your pocketbook as well, the love of your life doesn’t flush the toilet, and the world looks a little different than it did last year.
So, if we’re not in second grade anymore, and life still feels bad, are we supposed to pretend that everything is OK when it absolutely is not? The answer is no, because the most damage we can inflict on ourselves is when we’re not honest about who we are and what we’re experiencing.
Life is always a crapshoot; sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we don’t. But we will always be at the whim of our fortunes if we don’t have the mental toughness to choose our response.
Here’s the thing: We can choose to feel grateful even in the middle of a storm because gratitude is a skill we can learn. All it requires is the willpower to be in control of our life — intelligence won’t do it, nor will touched-up selfies or tons of social media followers. All gratitude requires is the desire to live a better life.
Let’s take a look at how we can grow up and learn how to be grateful:
1. Gratitude reduces anxiety
Anxiety is how our brain alerts the body that we’re in danger. Anxiety and fear release hormones that create the fight, flight, or freeze response. Our brain doesn’t get a lot of time to analyze the details of the situation to determine whether the threat is legitimate and requires an immediate response or whether it’s our insecurity rearing its ugly head.
Our brain is conditioned to repeat patterns that have worked for us. For example, if we’re a constant worrier, we are subconsciously rewiring our brain to only look for and process negative information. The constant worrier’s brain settles into a rut and only selects information that reinforces the fear response.
The upshot is anxiety that makes us feel insecure. We lose confidence in ourselves and start to question our abilities. Eventually, we lose the ability to cope.
This is only made worse by the fact that our brain has a confirmation bias — it looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true. It’s a powerful cycle, but it’s one you can control by simply intentionally choosing what to look for in life.
How to make it work for you: Begin by looking for things for which to be grateful. Once you start, your brain will continue to look for more things for which to be grateful. Remind yourself regularly so you train your brain to look for ways to be grateful.
2. Gratitude strengthens resilience
We can learn most skills at any time in life. Resilience, however, is one of those nasty beasts that requires us to take a few knocks before we can find ways to grab it by the throat.
Which means it takes more than a few platitudes, articles or smooth-talking videos to dispense the secrets of resilience. Besides, we’ve heard it all before, right? And it doesn’t actually help, does it?
Resilience requires us to get in the mud and fight our way through. No, it’s neither easy or pretty which is why resilience, like mental toughness, conjures up images of tough guys who bulldoze their way through the crap that shows up in life, undaunted and unafraid. But remember you’re not in second grade anymore and that Marvel comics represent a fantasy world.
For the fearless, gratitude may seem a soft and lame fallback when faced with obstacles. In truth, gratitude fosters strong coping mechanisms which is extremely important, because you don’t need resilience until life slaps you alongside the head and places you in the middle of a messy battle. This is one fight that will take more than Band-Aids to heal the wounds.
How to make it work for you: You can use gratitude to build your emotional resilience when you:
- Seek out the positive things in life.
- Fight negative thoughts and replace pessimistic thoughts with optimistic ones.
- Stay grounded and accept the present situation, even if it’s a harsh reality.
- Identify and focus only on solutions.
- Sustain good relationships and appreciate people who are there for you. You will feel loved, cared about and hopeful.
3. Gratitude leads to positive thinking
We tend to focus on the obstacles and difficulties of life because they demand a response. We need to fight and overcome them if we hope to move forward. On the flip side, we tend to forget to pay attention to the better things in life.
Psychologists have found that the loss of something is several times more painful than the joy of gaining the same thing. It’s a function that keeps us alive but also keeps many of us in a constant state of irritation and stress.
Gratitude is a state of mind. There’s a gratitude circuit in our brain that needs to be activated on a regular basis. It’s actually a stronger emotion than a negative emotion like hopelessness or depression.
Research has found that a strengthened gratitude circuit boosts the following areas:
- Psychological benefits: Gratitude produces positive emotions and thoughts. As a result, there is increased self-satisfaction and feelings of happiness.
- Physical benefits: a stronger immune system.
- Social benefits: Gratitude creates better communication, more empathy, and stronger interpersonal relationships.
Gratitude triggers good hormones and activates the reward center of the brain. Since our brain cannot focus on positive and negative information at the same time, gratitude forces us to focus on the positive sides of life. It acts as a catalyst for the neurotransmitters that manage our emotions, stress, and anxiety.
Many psychologists believe that emotional resilience can be created by keeping a gratitude journal. It’s a space to write down both the big and little things in life for which you are thankful.
How to make it work for you:
- What are compliments you’d like to give yourself today?
- What are your current challenges and what are you learning from them?
- Who are the people for whom you are grateful?
- What are the significant gifts in your life right now?
Are you mentally tough? Take this free Mental Toughness Assessment
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. Get Quy’s new book, “Secrets of a Strong Mind (second edition): How To Build Inner Strength To Overcome Life’s Obstacles” as well as “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.