11 Reasons to be Grateful for Life’s Trials, Challenges and Difficulties

“The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” ~Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It’s the season of gratitude. But what if life plain sucks right now?

The science of happiness has revealed that one of the easiest and most effective ways to grow your happiness, even when things are not going your way, is to grow your thankfulness.

Truly grateful people are the happiest amongst us. But what are the truly grateful thankful for? Well, for everything.

Deeply happy people are even thankful for the trials and tragedies they pass through.

I know a woman who recently shared her struggles with cancer. It hurt. It was scary. It changed her life. And then she finally overcame. She still hurts, but she’s healing. In a nutshell, here’s what she said:

“I’m grateful for having gone through the trial I went through. If I could change anything about the past, I would change NONE of it. I appreciate the love of my family, of my friends and others at church because of it. I have a deeper faith and more respect for my Savior because of it. The blessings that came out of my pain will forever be greater than the pain was even as I passed through it.”

Still, pain hurts. And most of us find it difficult, to say the least, to find gratitude in our hearts for the worst things in life. So how do we move our thoughts and attitudes toward gratitude, especially for our trials and tribulations?

Below are some thoughts I’ve had of late about the reason we should feel grateful even for those things no one in their right mind would be grateful for.

11 Reasons to be Grateful You Were Beat Up by Life

1. Challenges act as a mirror to our weakest parts.

We often go through life with blinders on. Not always because we refuse to see what is obvious or that we’re too lazy or fearful to look very deeply, but because we don’t know to look where we don’t know something has been neglected.

It is often only in our trials that we become aware that our courage or patience or faith could use some polish.

2. Challenges build character

Let’s be clear. Challenges in and of themselves do nothing. But they create circumstances where growth can occur in ways it can’t while sailing in smoother waters.

In such moments, when we choose to rise to the occasion, we become stronger, more determined, better in so many small and large ways. We become more deeply committed to a life of purpose and meaning and personal decency as we come to feel a broader connection to the shared experience of humanity.

(For my thoughts on those character traits essential to happiness, click here)

3. Challenges develop patience

Challenges often require that we suffer or endure over an extended period of time. When we emerge on the other side of the trial, little things like empty toilet paper rolls and toothpaste squeezed from the middle of the tube are finally recognized as being trite, inconsequential things, unworthy of much angst.

4. Challenges inspire compassion

As long as we don’t buckle under the weight of the pain and its longevity, when the pain does subside a bit, we find ourselves more inclined to feel compassion for other people going through their own rough spots.

We know of the pain, the difficulty, the loneliness, the feeling of being abandoned. So we are more likely to reach out to those similarly struggling.

5. Challenges soften our rougher edges

We are all works in progress. We are some combination of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and less-than-virtuous inclinations. Greed, selfishness and pride are often coconspirators planning their return just beyond the surface of our consciousness.

Through our trials and tribulations, our stint in the wilderness of our lives, if you will, we come face to face with our darker traits, do battle with them, and round off the rougher edges of our character in the process.

6. Challenges fine-tune perspective

Through challenge and difficulty, we learn to see life differently than before. Some people are jaded. Others embittered.

But still others develop the ability to see through others’ eyes, to pick up more wisdom and insight into the human condition.

The advice we can get from someone who has travelled through rough waters is often invaluable. They’ve seen what we haven’t seen, felt what we haven’t been forced to feel, experienced what we have been spared from experiencing.

The insights gathered from those relatively unique experiences can add wisdom to our own travels.

7. Challenges lead to greater confidence

Knowing that I can endure a very difficult challenge offers a degree of confidence that the next challenge can also be endured. I’ve been tested and passed (flying colors don’t even matter much at that point. I overcame. So I can overcome again).

We often don’t realize how much strength we have until challenged to use it. Once tested, we know.

8. Challenges make us rise to the ocassion

We often live life on automatic pilot. Going through the motions. Knee-jerk reactions to the monotony of sameness. Then life crumbles. We get hit and slapped and pushed into a corner.

Daily routines are thrown off. Circles of comfort twisted into painfully shaped dimensions. We are called on to do things we never imagined doing.

Each moment can therefore become infused with so much more meaning–or perhaps better, we become so much more aware of the inherent meaning each moment is imbued with.

And so life becomes something more purposefully and purposely lived.

9. Challenges improve our relationship with God

Challenges often push us to our knees. We are spent. We feel like there is nothing left and we turn everything over to God.

In those moments, we commune at a deeper level. Something more visceral and sincere comes out of us in our quiet moments of struggle with a Heavenly Father who calms and comforts and lifts us to the level of the challenge that confronts us.

We exercise more faith and trust and hope as we walk a lonely path that is in reality less lonely than we realize, as God walks with us, directing us, inspiring us, softening the burden or making us equal to it.

10. Challenges make us humble

When we feel like we are on top of the world, independent and self-sufficient and life clobbers us, we often fall a long way down a very high tower of self-importance.

That humility we experience often opens us to a whole slew of life lessons we were never open to learn before.

We become less arrogant and more willing to see others as our teachers–whether parents, children, waiters, janitors, or the president of a multi-billion dollar company.

11. Challenges make us happier

I know what you’re thinking right about now. OK, Ken, you pushed this one a little too far. But stop and think about it for a moment.

If our mouths always tasted like strawberry ice cream, for instance, there would be absolutely zero appreciation for the flavor of strawberry ice cream.

Who would run out to buy a double scoop of saliva-flavored ice cream? Gross, right?

But don’t you currently have a saliva-flavored mouth? Is your mouth gross right now? Probably not (and if it is, go see a dentist!).

My point is that we take what is most familiar for granted. If life was always bright and sunny, few people would have much appreciation for its sunniness. That would be the norm we naturally take for granted.

Challenges provide contrast to our happier times, elevating those times, adding to our appreciation and deeply felt gratitude for them.

So yes, our trials make us happier for having traveled a darker road to the sunshine lighting the clearing up ahead, just beyond the bend in the road.

Final Thoughts

Gratitude is a powerful trait. It softens trials, changes perspective, elevates attitudes, focuses attention, redirects negativity, empowers us to see more clearly, and expands, widens, lifts, ennobles and deepens the sense of meaning and purpose we discover in life.

Not only do our trials become classrooms that teach us life’s most profound lessons, they add joy and meaning to daily living.

So be grateful for all that filters down into your experiences during your sojourn on planet earth. Drop to your knees from time to time and thank God for the opportunities you have been afforded to learn at the feet of life’s challenges.

Our trials are, after all, among our greatest teachers, mentors and benefactors.

(Do you want more gratitude in your life? Try this post)

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