11/17/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2015

5 Ways to Find Gratitude in Trying Times

When times are tough, sometimes the last thing you want to think about is gratitude. I know I'm guilty of this. I've been chronically ill for a year now, and this daily hurting has wreaked havoc on my life, my body, and my emotional state. I've also been feeling lost, trying to figure out what I really want to do, what I want my life to be. This has led me to feel trapped in my situation but, at the same time, I've clung to certain things in an attempt to ebb the natural flow of change. More than anything, I've asked myself many times, "Where do I find the gratitude in all of this?" and "What do I have to be grateful for?"

There are no easy answers to questions like those. It is perhaps possible, however, to turn toward a mindful practice of gratitude, even in times of hardship. Here are a few ways to consider:

Find Gratitude Outside of Your Own Situation

When life is hard, it's simple to get so caught up in your personal struggle, that it becomes an obsessive fixture in your thoughts. This breeds negativity and hopelessness. It shuts you down, closes you off to what's happening around you. And, it's entirely natural.

What I've found to be most helpful in the times where all I can think about is how miserable I am is took look for beauty outside of myself. And, I'm not just talking about distraction. It's easy to put on a movie or try and get some task done to avoid the larger issues. But as soon as the task is finished, I fall right back into those old, harmful patterns of thought.

Not only that, but you have to give weight to those feelings. Distracting or ignoring your own suffering only bottles it up, makes it harder to heal. The key is to find balance. Address those negative feelings about your situation, as long as you make a mindful effort to find something positive to focus on as well. It could be spending a beautiful day outside, enjoying a collection of poetry, or a lovely dinner with family and friends. Small things to help remember there is still so much out there to be thankful for.

Find Gratitude in the Relatability of the Situations of Others

I think anybody who is suffering has a vested interest in the suffering of others. Sometimes, it's for selfish reasons. We find a misplaced sense of gratitude in how our own situations may compare to that of someone else's. This is doing a disservice to the incredible gift that our own pain gives us to relate to the pain other people might be feeling.

Instead of comparing our situations for self-gratification, we have an opportunity to empathize, to relate to other people on a deeper, more meaningful level, by sharing our experiences and asking them to share theirs. I see a kind of gratitude in that, in the ability to make connections with other humans through suffering, when we are at our most vulnerable. This can be a life changing gift.

Find Gratitude in the Moments When Things Do Work Out

When you are battling any kind of chronic illness, you learn that you have to make the most of the little moments where everything is okay. I believe that with any kind of suffering, we have to be open to the pleasures of those moments where things do work out, where life goes our way.

It's natural when you're hurting to approach those times with skepticism. I know I live in a constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop, practicing the notion that for any good thing that might come my way an equally bad thing is sure to follow.

But to find true gratitude in these moments, we have to look at them as just that: moments. Sometimes it's hard not to look at our lives through the lens of an undefined future that is yet to arrive. It can be incapacitating, this fear of what awaits us. But if we can task ourselves with stripping all of this away -- future and past -- and focus on the moment itself, we are sure to find gratitude awaiting us there.

Find Gratitude in the Moments Where Things Don't Go as Planned

Of course, things don't always go as planned. This is true of life at all times, but people in a state of suffering or sadness tend to find this to be the case most of the time. There are several reasons for this.

Sometimes it's as simple as the truth. When you are dealing with a chronic illness, for example, you get used to the idea that each new trip to the doctor will come up empty in terms of answers. It can be a frustrating and distressing process. Sometimes, we just are not in a mental or emotional head space to deal with our obstacles. Everything takes on a heavier burden.

But being able to find the silver lining in times like this is a true test of a grateful heart. It's one I know I fail day in and day out, but on those rare occasions when I can glean a positive message from something terrible, it strengthens the fire within me that seeks out light and hope wherever I might be in my life.

Find Gratitude in the People Who Support You

Being grateful for the people in your life who love and support you is perhaps the greatest source of strength and endurance to get through difficult times. For me, everything always comes back to love. I am grateful for the people who love me, just as I am grateful for the opportunity to open my heart and share my love with others.

This is something that is constant and unchanging regardless of my situation in life. Putting this ability to love and be loved at the forefront of everything is enough to help me through the darkest of days.

It's true that the struggle to find gratitude in the midst of a difficult situation is a constant battle. And, some days I'm winning more than others. But, at the end of each and every day, at least I know I've tried.