5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude During a Difficult Year

Overview: Got gratitude?!? Even during difficult times, it’s not only possible to be grateful, it’s a posture that God has instructed us to take. Here are some tips to cultivate gratitude during a difficult year.


No doubt about it. The year 2020 will go down in the history books as being a difficult year. One of the most stretching years that many of us have been through in a long time. Possibly ever.

The entire world has groaned together as we’ve had to navigate a novel virus and all of the ensuing fallout. Didn’t help that it was an extremely contentious election year here in the US.

As I think back to January, I can come up with a pretty big list of difficult things that my own family has had to face this year:

  • The unexpected death of my father-in-law (before Covid)
  • My son’s knee injury cut short his fantastic senior year of basketball
  • Having to postpone my son’s senior grad party – and having to do it much differently when we did have it in July
  • My son’s mission’s trip to Brazil being canceled
  • Not being able to spend time with family over the holidays
  • My son’s youth group activities being canceled during his senior year
  • Not being able to attend church in person for long periods of time
  • The concern that we wouldn’t be able to get the groceries and supplies that we needed
  • Family and friends being at odds with each other over how to handle the virus – and the election
  • Not being able to travel the way we were wanting to this year – our first year with both sons having graduated homeschool high school
  • Having to say good-bye to our beloved pet of almost 15 years

And I could go on and on and on. 

We had a rough year, no doubt about it. We all had a lot to grieve over. Life sure can be tough sometimes. Especially for those of us who tend to see the hard, the no good very bad parts of life. Everyone struggles but some of us tend to ponder what’s going wrong more than is probably healthy.

While a lot has gone wrong this year, plenty has gone right as well.

  • More time at home with our families
  • Less tugging on us to be on the run all the time rather than having any time to relax
  • No matter how scarce toilet paper got for a while there, we never ran out (I hope that’s true for you, too) 🙂
  • Lots more opportunities to do grocery pickup, restaurant pickup, etc.
  • Online shopping and curbside pickup became more of a thing for EVERYONE, not just big box stores or national chains
  • Good health and family have definitely become higher priorities for most of us
  • We can still connect with people through Zoom, phone calls, social media, etc.

The good list goes on and on as well. Lots of good things happened in 2020. No matter how hard the year has been, there have been lots of good things that have happened to most of us as well. We just need to be intentional about looking for them.

The world could be crashing in around us as it has for much of this year and we are still supposed to be grateful.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

And Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

God wants us to be thankful and to cultivate gratefulness no matter what is happening to us. Believe me, I know that isn’t easy. I struggle with being grateful when I’m going through tough times. If you’re like me, here are some things you can try to cultivate gratefulness in your heart.

Here are 5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude During a Difficult Year:

1 – Be Intentional

At the end of every day, week, month, or another predetermined period of time, write down 5 things you are grateful for. This will force you to stop and to think back over that period of time for things that are working or are going well. You can do this in regards to the world, your community, your family, your homeschool, or anything else that has affected your life.

I recommend scheduling this time on your calendar or setting an alarm on your phone. You may also want to purchase a special journal or notebook to record these things so that they’re all in one place.

2 – Rehearse The Good

Grab that journal that I told you to start above and read through it. Do this regularly. When you’re having a hard day, go back through and see where God showed up. Where things were going well. It really does help our minds to get on the right track and not to focus so much on the negative.

3 – Don’t Compare

Sometimes what makes us feel like things aren’t going well for us is comparing ourselves or our lives to someone else’s. We hear this phrase over and over but it bears repeating. Don’t compare! You are a unique child of God with unique strengths and weaknesses and your life, your family, your experiences, and your reactions will be different from everyone else’s as well.

4 – Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

We all have those dark thoughts that plague us. Thoughts that make us really zero in on feeling worse than we should. Pay attention! The next time those thoughts come, take them captive, and do your best to turn them around.

Rather than ruminating about how an in-person church service has been canceled again, be grateful that you can watch the live stream.

Instead of expressing frustration that your child’s sports activity has been postponed, try to focus on the fact that you will be able to stay home that evening as a family. Consider coming up with a fun alternate activity that you can all do together instead such as play a board game.

Rather than being disappointed that your large, extended family won’t be getting together to do their traditional Christmas gathering, be grateful that you HAVE a large, extended family. Or better yet, think up a creative new way that you can celebrate this year. Rather than being frustrated that things will have to change, take advantage of this chance to start some new traditions.

5 – Express Gratitude

Whenever someone does something nice for you, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate it. When something good happens, take notice and tell someone about it. The more you train your brain to focus on the good, the more you’ll begin to focus on these things and even to seek them out in your life.

Even better, carve out some time to send notes, make phone calls, message people, or text them to show your appreciation. Expressing gratitude to others is a great way to fill our hearts with love and gratitude for the people and events in our lives. A wonderful way to cultivate gratitude not only in our lives but in the lives of our loved ones as well.

Yes, 2020 has been difficult. But even during one of the hardest years many of us will ever experience, there has been much to be thankful for as well. Consider incorporating a few of these tips into the coming weeks and you’ll be amazed at how much more positive of an outlook you will have – both for how things have gone and for the coming year.

Do you need to work on cultivating gratitude in your life? What ways have you found that have helped you to become more grateful even during difficult circumstances? Please leave a comment below!

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