WORDS: E.J. ESCOBAR is an American living in Belgrade. Her private practice, COACHING FOR CHANGE, helps people make changes in their life. She offers sessions online with people who want to make some sort of change. Quitting smoking, losing weight, changing jobs, becoming more assertive, finding love, or breaking up are some of the areas that she focuses on. She also is a certified Positive Discipline Facilitator for parents who want to change their approach with their kids. She was a School Counselor for several years and also works with kids ages 8 on up, who are being bullied or who are behaving in an aggressive manner. You can reach her at: .

Sometimes it is hard to feel grateful when things are not going well in our lives. Consider the usual stressors we feel on a day-to-day basis. Then add the stress of COVID-19 and things can truly seem depressing. Situations like this can make us feel angry or sad easily or often. We may eat too much or not enough. We may stop exercising and want to do “comfort things” like binge watch TV, buy things we don’t actually need, or play games on the computer to avoid work or loved ones who need us. So, what can one do about this?

As with all issues that we try to avoid, admitting that there is a problem is a positive first step. Talking to a trusted loved one, clergy member or therapist can also be very helpful. But there is another action that we can take that helps us slow down a bit, think more clearly, and behave with more kindness and purpose. That is the art of thinking in terms of Gratitude.

Making an actual gratitude list allows us to sit down quietly and write what it is we are grateful for in our lives. This list may be long or it may be short, but the important thing is to focus on the appreciation we have for certain things in our lives that keep us going during rough times.

Many people tend to think negatively. However, with practice, we can help attune our brain to think more positively, to focus on the positive, but, it does take active steps in getting there. That can be quite a force to manage when we want to think more positively during stressful times. But by doing so, the benefits can be numerous. We can sleep better, make healthier choices, and respond vs. react to our loved ones (re-acting is acting without thinking whereas responding is really thinking something through before we respond to people).

This can prevent arguments and even bring us closer to loved ones because we behave in a more predictable manner, which is essential for a healthy relationship with others and with ourselves.

Think for a moment of the person on the beach who sees a wave coming towards them and they run in the opposite direction for fear of getting wet or worse, being swept away. And yet another person can look at that same wave and run towards it because they see it as a way to have fun. Still, another person may look at the wave and see it as a challenge and a reason they would want to get their surfboard out. This is a good example of how we think about a situation that can affect the way we deal with it. Our thoughts can affect the way we feel, which in turn affects the way we behave.

Writing a Gratitude List is a lovely way to give us a new perspective on a situation that is causing us emotional distress.

I am not suggesting that people simply need to think more positively or have more gratitude and magically their life will improve. As we mentioned, it is important to take the first step and admit to yourself that there is, in fact, a problem with the way you are thinking about something. But by writing a gratitude list and thinking in terms of what you do have to be grateful for, you can learn how to simply manage your feelings instead of stuffing them down, denying them, or even controlling them. Emotional management is the key to maturity and a happier and healthier life.

I interviewed 2 women who taught me about finding gratitude, or as some people call it, “making a space for grace”. Delores Sheakley (DS) and Stephanie Morich (SM) share their thoughts here:

What does Gratitude mean to you?

DS: “ Staying out of the negativity that buzzes in my head, which is pretty constant. It can be like a form of prayer that you can do anywhere, anytime. It is almost impossible to be negative when you are actively practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude can also intervene or at least slow down the anxiety and those nasty downward spirals…if I am going down the rabbit hole I might as well grab lots of gratitude on my way down to get back up.”

SM: “Gratitude is a gift that took me a long time to receive. I was in a 12-step program, somewhat reluctantly. Feeling grateful was at the bottom of my list of priorities. When I heard a member at a meeting share that she was grateful for the alcoholic in her life, I was shocked. But I soon came to realize that she was right. My son is an addict. He had been in and out of treatment for the past 20 years. Currently, he is serving a long prison sentence, also due to his addiction. After many years of Al-Anon, while visiting him in prison, I was able to say to him, ‘You have kept me in Al-Anon, and for that, I am truly grateful’.”

How did you come to incorporate Gratitude into your daily life?

DS: “Being in recovery and with therapy combined really works for me…daily mediation readings and apps like Happify, or Calm, to name a few. Also, I utilize Al-Anon and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) programs on Facebook along with meetings, and especially now with zoom it is super easy! 12 step meetings focus on gratitude, especially at guest speaker meetings. Daily readings for ACA focus on gratitude and continue to be my ‘one-stop shopping’ for recovery-related books! Soul Journey cards are also a playful and colorful way to focus on the positive. My therapist had me make a list of reasons I was grateful for my divorce when I started to go down that hole…I kept it in my coin purse for many years…it was so simple, cheap, and pragmatic…now I guess I would make the list on an app on my phone!”

SM: “I’m not sure who wrote this, but it helps me stay focused on gratitude: ‘when I appreciate what I have instead of dwelling on what I lack, I feel good about my life.’ Incorporating gratitude into my life is a daily process. It’s about acceptance, surrendering, and ultimately grace.”

What suggestions do you have for others to focus on Gratitude in their lives?

DS: “Practicing, acknowledging, seeking, and reinforcing gratitude can condition your brain patterns to be open and to recognize and acknowledge the gratitude you start to feel. It has been shown that the hormone cortisol can be very helpful in conditioning the brain ‘muscles’ to experience joy which helps counter the false messages brought on by trauma and anxiety. Yoga or Tai Chi, art, nature, and music can all help reinforce the front of the brain and eventually cool down the back of the brain which is responsible for the self-centered fear. Teaching the brain can lead to a shift in mood, emotions, and demeanor which results in increasing one’s comfort and allows for a willingness to open up to gratitude. There are some good articles on the purpose of joy in recovery which is the very close ‘cousin’ to gratitude. It certainly helps to talk with like-minded friends (which I like to call my ‘Gal-Pals’) who are willing to engage in conversations about this emotional exercise. This approach also can temper the negativity, the ‘pity pot’ and ruminations, that love to take over our brains, hearts, and soul.”

SM: “Recovery is an inside job. By this I mean, one has to go inward. We can’t expect others to do this for us. Gratitude is one of the cornerstones of the 12-step program. I don’t think someone needs to be in a 12-step program to practice gratitude. But I do believe that if we feel deserving of good things they will come and we will be grateful.”

Are there other ways you have come to think about yourself and the world that you have also found helpful?

“I don’t use social media too often, but I do like some of the positive-focused apps that provide me with 30 seconds of interesting, unusual, predictable, and humorous comments or images so that I will have a mindset that allows for gratitude. So often trauma is ‘cemented’ in our brains and these apps can help release that negative energy.”

SM: “I believe that we are not alone. Developing bonds of love and trust is the reaffirmation of all that is right in this crazy world. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars,’ by Charles Beard. This kind of says it all.”


As you can see, finding gratitude and having the willingness to think a bit differently can help in all areas of our lives. Other people will see us as more thoughtful, more approachable, and more reliable. And isn’t that a nice way to exist in an uncertain world?

Thank you to both Dee Sheakley and Stephanie Morich for sharing their very thoughtful and inspirational comments. It was truly a pleasure to interview them. Hopefully, this article will help you continue with your own journey incorporating gratitude. I hope it can help when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.


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