How To Be Grateful When Things Are Rough

When people are grateful for what they have, they can experience happiness and peace in their lives. However, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be hard when we experience difficulties in life. [...]

Cultivating gratitude is an important part of life. When people are grateful for what they have, they can experience a great deal of happiness and peace in their lives. However, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be hard when we experience difficulties in life.

For people with disabilities who may encounter challenges that bring about frustration, fear, stress, and anger, feeling grateful may not be easy. Some may be overwhelmed with physical or emotional trauma, while others face financial difficulties, functional loss of limbs, job insecurity, loss of hopes and guilt of putting their caregivers in moments of distress. However, being able to express gratitude during tough times can have a positive effect on one’s overall wellbeing and health.

Read on to find out how our case management officers, Samantha Law and Koh Yeng Yeng, adopt an evidence-based approach in helping our clients cultivate gratitude amid difficulties in life.

Benefits of Gratitude

Practising gratitude can have “lasting effects in a person’s life” (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Research shows that making a conscientious effort to identify sources of gratitude can bring about a myriad of physical and emotional benefits:

• Stronger immune system
• Reduced sensing of aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Increased interest in exercise and taking care of health
• Better and more restful sleep

• Increased levels of positive emotions
• Being more alert, alive and awake
• Increased sense of joy and pleasure
• Increased feelings of optimism and happiness
• Increased desire to be helpful, generous and compassionate
• Increased feelings of forgiveness
• Increased interest in being outgoing
• Reduced feelings of loneliness and isolation

Helping Our Clients Cultivate Gratitude

Inspired by these research findings, our case management officers conducted a session on Gratitude under the Emotional Resilience Program (ERP), which is a psychosocial group for our clients from the Transition to Employment programme. Held once every two months, the ERP focuses on topics such as mental and emotional wellness. 

In the session on Gratitude, the group discussed the meaning and importance of gratitude, and how it can be applied through activities like the Gratitude Bingo and Gratitude Story. 

Gratitude Bingo

Five by five Bingo chart with header "I am thankful for". Inside the boxes include options such as delicious meal, time with family, nice sunsets, hugs and uninterrupted sleep
Participants are to cross out items that they are thankful for.

Gratitude Story

Chart with header "Being thankful for...". The categories are people, material things, experiences and anything that brings meaning to you.
Participants are to share about what or who they are thankful for.

An Experiment in Gratitude

In a social experiment conducted by Mike Bernstein and Matt Pittman in 2013, participants were asked to think of someone important in their life, and list down the reasons why. They were then unexpectedly asked to call that person to read out what they had written. At the end of the experiment, participants demonstrated higher happiness levels prior to the start of the experiment.

Our case management officers adapted the experiment and created the Gratitude Challenge, where our clients had to write a letter to someone they appreciate. In this letter, they describe why they are thankful for that person, things they would like to apologise for, and their hopes for them.

Using the varying sweetness levels of coffee to represent the different levels of challenge, clients get to decide how they would like to share their gratitude letter. Below are some of the options, with Kopi O Ga Dai (the sweetest variation of the four) as the most difficult level where clients need to read out the letter personally to the recipient. Though it may be challenging, the end result has the most impact on both the client and the recipient. Kopi O Kosong represents the simplest level where clients write and keep the letter to themselves. While the result may not be as impactful as the other levels of challenges, writing a letter serves as a form of catharsis to the client as well.

Header "How sweet would you like your kopi to be?". With 1 being the least difficult level (least sweet) and 4 the most difficult level (most sweet)
1 Kopi O Kosong - Just write letter and keep it
2 Kopi O Siu Dai - Mail it to them
3 Kopi O - Pass letter to them personally
4 Kopi O Ga Dai - Read it to them

How Our Clients Have Benefitted

Our clients learned that gratitude is a selfless act of appreciation for tangible and intangible things, which can yield powerful, holistic results. The majority of the clients shared that they are most thankful for family, who provided constant support and caregiving. Some felt grateful for good health and their continuous recovery, as well as the care team who helped them to achieve it.

How You Can Embark on Your Own Gratitude Journey

Keen to begin your own gratitude journey? Besides trying out the above ways that our case management officers had used to engage our clients, you can also explore these tips from the following resources:

While life will never be always smooth sailing, having a sense of gratitude reminds us that not all is lost. Despite the struggles that we have to endure, we can remain hopeful that we can still finish strong. Life is a journey after all, so let us keep moving forward.


Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily 20 life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.

Emmons, R. A., & Shelton, C. M. (2002). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.). Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 459–471). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Soul Pancake. (2013, July 12). An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness [Video]. Youtube.