8 Ways to Be Grateful When Life Gets Tough


“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

It is mid-November and we are embarking upon the holiday season, also known as the “most wonderful time of the year”. A time when we are supposed to be full of gratitude, joy, surrounded by love, and at peace. And the disheartening truth is that whether you are battling your eating disorder or trying to recover from it, chances are you may be lacking in experiencing these. This is also a time when everything seems to be about food – which, if you’re reading this, probably is, or has been, a trigger in itself.

In these moments I wonder: how do we experience the holiday spirit (or any kind of positive spirit) if there is such pain, fear, and discomfort happening within us?

My own gratitude practice has grown exponentially through my own recovery journey. Yet sometimes, on days I am feeling discouraged or defeated, I have to make the conscious choice to see the word “joy” printed on my tea-cup, to smell the “pumpkin spice” candle burning next to me, and to read and re-read the sign on my wall that says “start each day with a grateful heart”.

One thing I have learned is that gratitude is so much more than “i am thankful for…”. Gratitude is a way of being, a way of seeing, a way of thinking, every day. And it is a conscious, intentional perspective that, I believe, must be examined in recovery.

Here are a few simple ways to experience gratitude this season, even if your “cup of joy” appears to be empty…

  1. Get outside. As tempting and cozy as it may be to stay indoors during this “harsh” California winter, getting outside can be the perfect redirection from negative feelings. Whether you take a five-minute work break for some fresh air, find a beach to sit on, or go for an hour long walk, getting a taste of nature is a great “pick me up”.
  2. Snuggle a furry friend. Spend some extra time with your pet. Experiencing unconditional love and affection from a dog (or any animal you share a bond with) is actually an evidence-based way to feel a multitude of renewed uplifting emotions.
  3. Tell someone you love them, and tell them why. In my opinion, the first step to feeling joy and combating the negativity in the world, is to open our hearts to others, spread the love, and remind people why they are cherished.


  4. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for, as well as your positive intentions for utilizing those blessings. Glad you have hot water to take a warm shower with later? Thankful to have someone who loves you despite how weird you really are behind closed doors? Blessed with money to pay for other things you enjoy and/or need? … thinking perspective and choice.
  5. Give back to your community or a charity. Because giving feels good. And the world needs our time and money invested in things that actually matter. Every little bit counts.
  6. Exercise (in moderation). What’s that? Physical activity is good for the body AND the mind? Yes! exercise = endorphins = happy.
  7. Make use of that mistletoe. Speaking of endorphins…if you’re looking to self-medicate, kissing is one dopamine-producing drug I’m actually willing to support.
  8. Remind yourself that it’s okay to be happy, and that you deserve to be. Make a conscious decision to allow yourself to experience gratitude and joy, however, that may be for you. Mindfully living with intent, purpose, and awareness of the positive things, however small, is part of breaking down the walls that can prevent your heart from feeling full.
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