Gratitude Amidst Grief and Loss (A Thanksgiving Reminder)

Gratitude has been my coping strategy in a year of grief and loss. In early 2018, I experienced a significant life event. I had barely recovered from that when I lost my soul sister and best friend of 18 years. Later in the year, a special, aunt figure passed followed by the untimely passing of a dear friend and team mate. A few weeks ago, I lost a dear acquaintance. And this morning, I learned of the passing of an extraordinary coach who enormously influenced me (and thousands of other students): Judith E Glaser, pioneer of Conversational Intelligence, key-note speaker, and author of many, amazing books.

While the losses are personal (and painful), gratitude has been my biggest friend in helping me tide over these difficult times. In this post, I share five, gratitude practices that have helped.

1. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates

Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar is a Happiness expert and has taught Happiness at Harvard. In this article on LinkedIn, he emphasizes the need to appreciate the good. We can do that by being intentional. We can choose to recognize the good around us.

No matter how difficult things may seem, I’m deeply grateful for the presence of love, family, and the support of wise souls in my life. I’m thrilled that my amazing MacBook works like a charm even after 7 years. And the wonder of normalcy that every day brings. I’m grateful that the family I love and adore are happy and well, given that they live thousands of miles away. It would be so easy to take all this for granted! But if I did, I would fail to treasure the moments and experience them fully with all of my being.

2. Remember the bad

Robert A Emmons Ph.D., is a leading, scientific expert on the topic of Gratitude. In this post, he shares how gratitude can help us through hard times. He emphasizes the importance of remembering the bad simply because it reminds us to never take things for granted. In fact, he reiterates that Thanksgiving, the American National Holiday of Gratitude grew out of hard times.

But how does remembering the bad actually help in building the muscle of gratitude? Here’s an exercise to consider. Draw as vividly as possible, your River of Life. During the process, try to recall the worst times in your life. Can you re-live the heartbreak, rejections, the loss of loved ones, and the punishing adversity you suffered? Pause for a moment and think about how you even endured all of that and made it thus far? What are the odds of staying sane, much less demonstrating excellence and growth on emotional, spiritual, and intellectual counts? But you did! And here you are. Still in one piece. And still marching on.

Remember the bad so you can recognize the good. 

3. Be Compassionate

It might seem counterintuitive to be compassionate and giving, at a time of deep, personal loss. But compassion towards others as well as yourself is an incredibly, powerful practice to heal from loss.

In her latest audiobook, The Science of Compassion,  Dr. Kelly McGonigal discusses compassion as ‘an unfolding process’. She invites us to ‘choose compassion as a response to our own suffering or to the suffering of others.’ She views them as a set of skills and intentions that are consciously cultivated to enable us to respond with compassion instead of anger or despair.

This year, I chose compassion as a response to the many losses I experienced. I moved away from the arduous bi-weekly, blog schedule. I didn’t post much on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. The only ‘social media’ activity that gave me joy was sharing my photography on my Instagram account. I chose compassion as a response to the sufferings of others around me, despite my own sorrow. It somehow served as acknowledgement of my own pain as well as a welcome distraction from the burden of having to ‘carry it’.

4. Cultivate Joy (Gratitude and Joy are connected!)

These days, one of my greatest joys come from reading bedtime stories, helping with homework, teaching math (yes!) or English, and playing with my little friend. A child’s world is filled with such wonder and awe that it is impossible to not feel joy. Their natural state IS joy and it’s infectious.

During my walk, I love to soak in the early morning light. It’s the same sun, the same time, and a morning, like any other. But my experience of it is different. Every time. From gorgeous, to mellow, to magical, the sun always leaves me deeply fulfilled and joyous.

In coaching conversations, I see clients who suddenly stumble upon an insight that was hitherto unseen. Or find their sweet spot in the journey they have been trying to craft, for months. And as I listen to connect and help them move forward, I feel deep and unrestrained joy.

5. Create your own ‘You Are Allowed’ list

Do you remember seeing this post on LinkedIn? I certainly do and began creating my own, earlier this year. It reads like this:

  1. Start a business on your own – Anitha Aswath Consulting Group – 
  2. Earn coach certification – Results Certified Coach, Neuroleadership Institute – ✔
  3. Commit deeply to learning – WBECS Full Summit Executive Speed Learner – ✔
  4. Compose music even if I’m no stalwart (lyrics, song, rhythm) – 4 pieces ✔
  5. Have fun sharing videos of my music on Facebook and Instagram – ✔

This is just the beginning and my list will continue to evolve. Therefore, the practice of gratitude is not just limited to Thanksgiving. Instead, it is a daily observance.

How has the practice of gratitude transformed you? What do you wish you knew then, what you now know? How are you sharing that wisdom with the world around you?


Anitha Aswath | Coach, Consultant, BloggerAnitha Aswath is the Founder of Anitha Aswath Consulting Group, created in service of Coaching, Leadership, and Mindfulness.

She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is trained by The Marcus Buckingham Company in StandOut and Strengths Coaching for Business Leaders. She is a Results Certified Coach from the NeuroLeadership Institute.

She is an empaneled StandOut Strengths Coach with Cisco Systems Inc. and a Career Transition Coach with RiseSmart, which is an outplacement organization.

An avid photographer, blogger, aviation enthusiast, Anitha is also a student of Indian Classical Music.

In an illustrious career spanning 20+ years, she has served organizations like General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Cisco in regional and global capacities. She works with clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of leaders and their teams.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *