When things are going well, it’s generally easy to recognize life’s blessings. But what about when you’re facing adversity or tragedy? According to Dr. Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, it’s not only helpful to be grateful, it’s essential.

In the days immediately following the 9/11 tragedy, for example, gratitude was found to be the second most common experienced emotion, after sympathy. The ability to appreciate your life circumstances is a powerful coping strategy during stress and trauma, and while we often remember adversity with deep pain, gratitude helps us to heal a bit and gives us the strength to move on.

“In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life,” says Emmons. “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.” Emmons writes more about gratitude during crises in this Greater Good article.

I am nearing the end of what has been a week filled with a profound, heartwrenching devastation for my extended family. When I sat down to do my weekly gratitude journal, I found that although it was much more difficult to focus on the slivers of sunshine, it was ultimately helpful to dig deep and identify three blessings I’m particularly grateful for. It gave me comfort to realize that the good is still there at times like these, you just have to stop and recognize it more mindfully. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Family. While I’m always, always grateful for my immediate and extended family, I felt their blessings of comfort and connection especially deeply this week in the face of unspeakable family tragedy. There is nothing more important in the world.

2. Two lovely theatre experiences that helped take my mind off real life for a while. The music and story of “Show Boat” made for a lovely evening at Lincoln Center, and the beautiful play, “Love Letters” was performed with magnificent poignance by Candice Bergen and Alan Alda. His warm, beaming smile at curtain call melted me.

3. Laughter. It feels good and it’s healing. I have truly appreciated  the funny things that have tickled me this week…whether it was something someone said, something I stumbled across or something a friend thought to share. It’s the best feeling.

What are you grateful for this week?

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