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Find Happiness Through Gratitude, Even When Times Are Tough

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“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~Brother David Steindl-Rast

In the summer of 1993, my father was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

He was only 58. Still just a kid.

To say the least, this was a devastating development. Things had already been challenging for my family for several years before this blow.

Dad had lost his corporate banking job in Boston—quite unjustly, in our view—kicking off a nearly three-year-long bout of unemployment.

This was not an easy time for our family, but we pulled together in the ways we were able and never gave up hope.

No matter how tough things became (moving three times in three years, for instance), I was always exceedingly grateful that my parents were who they were: devoted to each other and their three kids (I am the eldest), honest, loyal, sensible, and smart.

I was also grateful that they were crazy supportive of our dreams, no matter how big they happen to be.

In 1987, I moved to New York at age 18 to start my modeling career with a major agency. This was in lieu of college, I might add.

“Aren’t your parents worried?” my friends would ask, slightly marveling.

“No, they know how important this is to me,” I responded.

I’m sure they were concerned, but they never let it show.

In addition, they were willing to go to the mat for us, for our educations, our comfort, and domestic stability.

There may have been cracks in the castle walls at times, but never its foundation.

In the year prior to my dad’s illness, things had finally started to turn around.

My father was offered a new corporate finance job in Manhattan. My parents and youngest sibling, who was still in high school at the time, moved to Westchester, NY from our home in Rhode Island in 1992.

I had returned to live in Rhode Island to spend more time with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). I had moved on from modeling and to my long-term career goal, writing.

I was trying my hand at writing TV spec scripts with the idea of going pro. After writing a passel of sit-com scripts, I applied to a year-long writing fellowship at Disney, which if I won, would not only be a golden opportunity, but require me to move to Los Angeles.

When I wasn’t accepted to the program, I was heartily disappointed. Sure, I was used to rejection after being in the modeling industry, but I had felt optimistic about my chances of being selected.

After I regrouped, I decided to move back to New York. I landed a job at a new commercial production company where I could still work on my scripts in my free time and gain valuable production experience.

By this point, my father was undergoing daily radiation treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the world’s leading cancer hospitals and a short subway ride from my new office.

While facing the horrible prospect of losing my beloved father (a reality I could not comprehend), I began to focus on the things I could be grateful for each day.

Suddenly, I became very grateful I had not been selected for the fellowship in L.A. I would have been too far away from my parents during this critical time.

I was grateful that my father had been at his new company long enough to qualify for benefits. As terrible as this situation was, it would be even worse without insurance.

I was grateful that my parents had moved to New York, near some of the best cancer treatment centers and doctors in the world.

I was grateful that my mother, who was under an unimaginable amount of stress, rose to the challenge with strength and grace, exhibiting what is means to live in the moment.

Later, she explained, “Staying present was the only way to get through it.”

I was grateful that I got to see my father as much as I did during his illness. I would visit him in the hospital as much as I could, or travel out to Westchester on the weekends when he was convalescing at home.

I was grateful that I had my new job with terrific bosses who kept me busy, kept me laughing, and kept me going during those difficult months.

I was grateful for my boyfriend, who would console me any way he could.

I was grateful that I had good friends in the city who provided entertaining and comfortable respites between our guilty pleasure TV-watching nights (Melrose Place, anyone?) and Sunday brunches in the East Village.

I was grateful for my peaceful living situation with my two kind roommates who respected my space, for I required solitude to recharge at the end of long days.

This sad and scary period of my life taught me how to cultivate gratitude daily.

My father died on May 22, 1994.

Even though he has since missed walking me down the aisle, meeting his two grandchildren, and other family milestones, I am so grateful that I had him for a father for twenty-five years.

For the last twenty years, I have made it a practice to focus on what’s right, what’s working, and what I’m grateful for everyday.

Gratitude is the fuse we must light to ignite the firecracker of happiness. 

Here are some of the ways that I practice gratitude.

Remember that thankfully, the majority of our problems are not life or death.

If we strive to remember this each time we feel discouraged or overwhelmed, our challenges shrink right before our eyes. Ta-da!

Be grateful for the “little” things. It can be enough to shift you into gratitude.

Sometimes we may feel stalled or that nothing is quite clicking, but that’s when it’s important to practice gratitude for things like breathing.

Speaking of which, try this exercise:

Find a quiet spot. Focus on your breath. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Feel your chest expand as you inhale. As your chest inflates, shift your attention to your heart.

After several breaths, you will begin to feel a warm, loving sensation. Congratulations, you have just cracked open a fresh barrel of “just happy to be alive!” and are experiencing the miraculous.

Write a list of all that you are grateful for. It’s like a mantra for thankfulness.

Jot it into a mini-journal that you can carry with you or try typing it in your smart phone (if you have one) and looking at it and updating it on a regular basis.

Some days we are just grateful the sun is out. Other days, we’re grateful to know the sun is still shining above the dark clouds. This simple knowledge can be enough to spark gratitude.

Before you fall asleep at night, reflect on all that you were grateful for during your day.

Like, “Today, the dog didn’t get sick on the rug” (like I said, sometimes it’s the “little” things). Falling asleep in a state of gratitude means that you’re entering slumber as a happy, present being.

This will hopefully, with practice (and all of this takes practice), carry over to the next morning. If not, then continue the process. While brushing your teeth, tick off ten things you’re grateful for to start your day.

Through my experience, I have come to believe that true happiness cannot exist without gratefulness. The good news is that while happiness may seem to elude us, gratitude is always within our reach, which means we all possess the map to happiness. How amazing is that?

Photo by kk+

Avatar of Alexandra Hope Flood

About Alexandra Hope Flood

Alexandra Hope Flood is a writer, blogger, intuitive coach and consultant. Her sole goal is a soul goal: to live consciously and aid others in their quest to do the same. To read her blog, a flood of hope (+humor) or schedule a phone session, please visit alexandrahopeflood.com.

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  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story Alexandra and reminding us about the power of gratitude in our lives.

    If happiness can be elusive but gratitude is the key to happiness, then, like you say, we can all be grateful and ultimately happy! And even if not HAPPY, then happIER!

    And gratitude is ALWAYS within our reach. I was having a funny conversation the other day with an uncle complaining about his daughter’s study habits. I pointed out to him she wasn’t a criminal (i.e robber, thief) and was actually studying a professional course to get a professional degree! it was quite a way to change a perspective and hopefully helped shed light on how grateful he should be instead.

    I’ve tried to include more gratefulness in my life – it really is a life-changer. Grateful you shared your story and this post.

  • http://www.sixsimplerules.com/ David Singer/SixSimpleRules

    Alexandra:
    Like many others, I am a strong believer in the power of gratitude. Your very personal piece was very powerful and appreciated. Thank you.
    Best regards,
    David

  • Josie Rock

    Nice read, thank you, grateful too!

  • Padmini

    True that!

  • http://twitter.com/skyefx2 Sherrian Felix

    Though we all know that we should be grateful, it is sometimes hard to keep in the forefront of our minds during those dark times. Thank you for the reminder.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thank you for your comment, Vishnu! I am very GRATEFUL for it. I completely relate to your story about your uncle. There is usually one point in each day where I remind myself (or someone else) that there (usually) is more that’s “right” about a situation than what’s “wrong.” Most of life is about perspective and thankfully (there is that word again :) we have the power to shift it.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks for your comment, Sherrian. I am sincerely grateful that you found my story helpful.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks Padmini!

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks so much, Josie! I’m glad you’re grateful too.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks so much, David! I have gratitude for your gratitude. :)

  • http://twitter.com/RazwanaWahid Razwana Wahid

    Alexandra – the perfect piece showing us how seemingly disappointing situations are all happening for a reason – it’s only when we go through to the other side that we realise why it all happened! I went through something similar when I wasn’t selected for the universities I applied to, but got into the one in my city. A year later, my dad was diagnosed with Cancer (and subsequently passed away) and I was so grateful to be in the same place so our family could be together.

    Echoing Vishnu’s thoughts – happiness is always within our reach – but sometimes this practice does not come naturally !

    - Razwana

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Hi Razwana, Thanks so much for your comment. I am so very sorry about your father. It would seem that we have a shared experience. Thank you so much for sharing it. Yes, as my childhood violin teacher used to say, “Practice. Practice. Practice.” :)

  • Tiffany

    Thank you for reminders of hope in hard times

  • Vicky

    Thank you for your beautiful, poignant story. I keep a gratitude journal and it really makes a difference to my every day experience. As others have mentioned, your story also reminded me that sometimes not getting what we want can turn out to be such a blessing. Your story is really touching. x

  • http://twitter.com/ThisAmericaGirl This American Girl

    Thanks for your article. I especially love your suggestion to focus on breathing and realize how amazing it is to simply be alive. A beautiful quote I heard once in a yoga class was: “Stop thinking and start thanking.” It’s something I remind myself of often. A practice I have began is every time I have a negative thought, especially about myself or another person, I purposefully turn it into something positive instead. We have the ability to view anything in life as positive or negative. I also thought I would share some added insipiration: http://thisamericangirl.com/2012/11/12/go-ahead-and-smile/

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks so much for your comment, T.A.G.! I love that quote, so simple yet so profound. Love your blog (started following it). You had me at the hibiscus picture!

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thank you so much, Vicky! And thanks for sharing about your gratitude journal. I have had so many moments when things haven’t gone how I thought they would (or should) and over the years I’ve learned to trust that there is a reason, even if I don’t immediately grasp it. :)

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks for your comment, Tiffany, and you’re most welcome.

  • Lisa R.

    Beautiful words, Alix. I shed a few tears for the lovely man your father was and for my own father who died at the (unimaginable) young age of 38. Even so always so much to be grateful for when we seek it. Thank you for the reminder. xxLisa

  • Lisel

    grateful of you my friend!

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Thanks Pal!! I’m grateful for you too!! :)

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Hi Lisa, thanks so much for your heartfelt note. I think your tears might be contagious here. I had forgotten that your dad was so young when you lost him (probably 38 seemed so far away when we first met). So hard. I am very grateful for your support. It means so much. Xo A

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.chambersmoss Sara Chambers-Moss

    Alexandra, thank you so much for this personal – yet universal – post. Very moving. As counter-intuitive as it seems, gratitude seems to come easiest after we have gone through deep loss, providing us with a measurement against the pain of lesser problems. I lost my first son 25 years ago, and found that only by being grateful every day was I able to cope with raising my young daughter. When my husband almost died last summer, for a while I couldn’t find anything to be grateful for. Now I’m so grateful that he is still here and healthy! I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately (after another husband health scare), and just re-wrote this post late last night: http://www.simpledailychange.com/40-things-to-be-grateful-for/ Then I found your beautiful story. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Hi Sara, thank you for sharing your touching story too. Reading your comment moved me. Firstly, I am so sorry about your son. How harrowing that must have been. Secondly, I am so happy to hear that your husband is recovered. That’s wonderful! Thank you for sharing your link. I look forward to reading it. Thanks again for reaching out.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Hi Sara, just read your post and it was really helpful and inspiring. :)

  • Amanda myers

    I really enjoy reading that, I really don’t know how to just let go n go forward n my life. I feel myself been lost in this world, why? I really just don’t know at time. I have three beautiful kids, that really need me to be strong, cheerful, loving, n understand for them. Please help me by give me some good advice.

  • Alexandra Hope Flood

    Hi Amanda, I understand. You are not alone. I would be happy to help, but perhaps a private forum would be best. Please feel free to contact me via my web site and we can go from there. http://alexandrahopeflood.com/