Life seldom gives us exactly what we want or  the way we want it. Disappointment can be difficult for us in many ways, causing a lot of disturbance. The way we expected reality to turn out just doesn’t match the way that it does turn out, and this incongruity produces much suffering.

Expectations are like entry ramps into our journey through the spiral of non-acceptance. We experience at least two stages on this journey, and enter into the spiral through at least two entry ramps. Sometimes we get stuck. We shift back and forth between different stages. It’s also common to employ denial even when we find ourselves in another stage. Sometimes denial is an automatic defense, sometimes it’s an outright refusal, and sometimes it is chosen consciously.

Our disturbance can result from unfulfilled expectations, or from living according to our assumptions. We take things for granted. We just assume that life will continue the way it did for so long until now, like an assumption that a loved one will always be there, and the disturbance we experience when one day they die. We expect, we assume, and we wish that reality could be different, and in our entitlement we maintain that it should be different (anger). The great problem here is that our expectations of what should have happened have absolutely no bearing on what’s actually going to take place. It’s like making fairytale wishes upon stars. 

These disturbances are experienced with many losses and struggles, even if they are relatively minor. Take the following case for instance:

I remember driving one day to the local branch of my bank, and it was gone. All that was left was boarded-up windows and charcoaled bricks. After saying, “No, it can’t be!” (denial/shock), I remember trying to peer beyond the boards to see if the bank was still operating. I remember thinking: “Is that annoying teller still there? If I look hard enough, maybe I’ll see her.” This was my denial, because I assumed and expected the bank to be there, and it wasn’t. 

I remember then shifting to a mixture of anger and mostly sadness, with racing thoughts: “I’m going to have to find another branch, and it will be a longer drive, and it’ll be unfamiliar, maybe the tellers there will be worse, and I don’t want to deal with this!” (denial, experienced while in anger).

Up until that time my mind had been set: the bank was supposed to be there. Then, I employed one of my coping mechanisms to proceed further along the journey towards acceptance. I chose to trust, to hope that it would work out, and to believe that there would be some purpose in it. I verbalized my self-talk message: “This is also for the best.”   

A therapeutic goal should be to optimize our capacity and ability to navigate through this spiral.  After all, the less time we spend opposing reality, the less time we have to spend stuck in the disturbance of the spiral. 

The Mechanism of Gratitude

There are many acceptance facilitating mechanisms, and gratitude is one such mechanism. It enables us to get our foot in the door, so to speak; part of us can be in disturbance, while another part can say thank you. We don’t even have to feel grateful in order to say thank you. It’s surely possible to experience disturbance, while at the same time choosing to move our vocalization apparatus into action in order to articulate these words: “Thank you.” Here’s how it can go:

Adam gets a parking ticket because he lost track of time. He removes the ticket from where it was carefully placed under his windshield wiper, and looks at it with disbelief (denial and shock). He feels himself beginning to shift  to anger, but before he does, he catches himself by employing a thought stopping technique, and then chooses a replacement thought of gratitude. He tells himself that there must be a purpose in this tribulation. Based on the track record of other tribulations he’s experienced before, he reminds himself that with some time and some thought, he very well may discover multiple purposes. But before he even begins to search through his thoughts for possible reasons and scenarios, he takes a moment to simply verbalize “thank you.”

Our Limited Perspective

A prerequisite for employing gratitude in this way is our understanding that we have very limited perspective. Think about it: we perceive the world with only a mere 5 senses; our 2 eyes see in only 1 direction, and only the present moment that is in front of our eyes. Our eyes are blinded by many things, such as our desires, fears, power, and idealization. We even see things that aren’t there. We don’t see how today’s suffering will shape us and make us grow, and we don’t see which of our actions the suffering at hand is correcting. We don’t see our future, and we don’t our see past lives that may be driving and directing current happenings and events.

And the list is just for starters.

What we do see, though, most poignantly, is what feels good to us and what feels bad to us. We are focused solely on this – we feel it strongly, and we therefore inevitably make a mistake in judgment. We confuse what feels good with what really is good, and for the best. 

The struggling diabetic says he wants to eat chocolate cake because it’s so “good.” He focuses on how he imagines it will feel on his tongue and in his belly. If you ask him, he will tell you that the cake is “good.” But one second – how can it be good if it may send him into a diabetic coma? What he means is only that it will taste and feel good, when in actuality the cake will be very bad for him and damaging!  His struggle is because he maladaptively focuses on the wrong thing, on his subjective feeling of good, and not thinking about what will be best for him. 

Now plug in any other variables into this equation, such as Rachel who knows that drugs are destroying her life and her health, yet she can’t stop. One of the reasons is because she automatically focuses on the overwhelming good feeling of her drug. In the moment, we are blinded by what we imagine will feel good, which is a result of our limited perspective. We just seem to be programmed to look automatically, and with tunnel vision, at what we feel. 

Gratitude in the Context of Our Limited Perspective

The suffering feels bad now, but we can choose to believe that it will be for the best. In addition to activating our belief, we can also acknowledge our track history of how previous life struggles have yielded “secondary gains.” Expressing gratitude for these secondary gains enables us to own and embrace them. This results in an acceptance of the entire situation responsible for yielding those gains, including the struggle itself. If we would be unwilling to forgo the gains, then we must also accept the struggle that yielded the gains. We can’t have one without the other. It’s analogous to a seed that needs to first decompose before it can grow and eventually produce fruit. That’s the way we grow; we can’t yield the growth, unless there’s struggle first.

Ask yourself if you have ever experienced a tribulation, that only later, when looking back, you were able to see how it benefitted you in some way, or shaped you and made you who you are. These secondary gains are usually only recognizable when looking back in retrospect, and at the time of the tribulation, we can’t see any purpose.

If you tell a child that it’s for the best that his parents punished him for breaking the rules, the child will get angry and think you’re crazy. Discuss it with him again in 15 years when he’s an adult, and he will say: “Well, I didn’t see it as good at the time. But with my adult perspective and growing wisdom, I now understand that my father was disciplining me, that I needed disciplining, and that this shaped me to become a moral and conscientious person, and it was for the best.” As an adult, we gain wisdom and humility, which augments our perspective. 

Gratitude, when approached in this way, carries with it a post facto, an “after the fact” quality. The wish that it had never happened, and the acknowledgement that it’s reality and for the best.  We can express gratitude for the secondary gains and then choose to believe that they will later become apparent. We simply have to create the dichotomy – our ideal wants (based on our sorely limited perspective), verses choosing to believe that the tribulation will be good in the end, and for the best.



The perspectives presented here are obviously an oversimplification. However, they can serve as a template and a starting point to begin utilizing gratitude in order to facilitate acceptance. I invite the reader to personalize and develop this mechanism until it fits and works optimally.


Kalman Canant, LCSW, CSAT-c is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker located in Brooklyn, NY. He maintains a private practice in Ditmas Park, and works with various issues such as trauma, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and specializes in working with compulsivity, infidelity and betrayal trauma. Kalman can be reached at 347-422-6268, or by email: