Gratitude in Military Life

Written by Valerie McCarley

Gratitude probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about military family life. Deployments, frequent moves, stress, and unpredictable schedules often consume our day-to-day thoughts. Military life is hard, but you’re also surrounded by abundance if you only take the time to look.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
— Eckhart Tolle

As I prepare for my husband’s official military retirement, I’ve been struck by how much there is to be grateful for within the military community. The military lifestyle is indeed demanding; multiple deployments, 6 PCS moves, and countless separations have shaped our experience, sometimes leaving little room for positive thinking. But there are numerous reasons to appreciate the everyday small moments of this military life.

If you needed a reminder, like I did, that there’s so much to be thankful for — keep reading.

1. Defining Gratitude in Military Context

How can we be grateful in military family life? What does it mean? What does it look like?

Gratitude, or the state of being thankful, can be experienced in many ways. From simply being mindful of the present moment to creating an intentional practice, the act of being grateful can transform our lives and our military family experience. It can even be a source of strength when we need it most, particularly during challenging times like deployments, relocations, or periods of uncertainty.

And the benefits don’t stop there. From better sleep to improved health and greater life satisfaction, there are a lot of reasons we should fight negativity and hunt for the good stuff instead.

So, how do you find gratitude in military family life? Start with your community.

2. Grateful for Community

Few can truly understand the highs and lows of military life like other military families. Although we may not know each other, we grasp how complicated this unique lifestyle is and can empathize with the struggles that inevitably arise. Fellow blogger and military spouse Jeanine Rickman hit the nail on the head when she said, “No one really knows what military life is like until they have lived it.”

That’s why I’m so thankful for the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) Military Spouse Writing Program. Sharing my experiences has reminded me that this is not a solitary journey. There’s an entire network of people who want to support you. And the more you support each other, the less isolated you feel.

Who has been there for you? What aspects of the military are you most grateful for?

Honor your inner circle, beginning with your family and friends.

3. Family and Relationships

Family is everything. Both the family you were born into and the family you have chosen (your closest friends) are lifelines year-round. That’s why it’s so important to express your gratitude, especially during separations or transitions.

When we arrived at our fourth duty station and my husband received deployment orders the day he checked in, I quickly found myself alone. Here I was, navigating a new location and a new job, without my partner for support.

Once the deployment blues lifted, I quickly realized how lucky I was. The neighbors who were strangers a few months back became cherished friends. Plus, I was incredibly fortunate to have family nearby. For the first time in years, we found ourselves at the same duty station as my brother. His family and children became my second home during that time. And when my brother deployed the following year, my husband and I were able to provide that same support to my sister-in-law.

Find distinctive ways to show your gratitude for those closest to you. Write a thank you note. Take a friend out for coffee. Pour your heart out in a recorded video. Curate a ‘deployment survival basket’ for a fellow military spouse. Or, simply be there when they need it the most.

There are countless options for expressing gratitude, even when times are tough.

4. Overcoming Challenges with Gratitude

Challenges. So. Many. Challenges.

Military family life can be joyous, overwhelming, and hectic, sometimes all at the same time. When challenges mount up, it can be hard to know where to turn next. Instead of rushing on to the next thing, take a moment to be thankful. Find something in your current situation that is positive. Focusing on gratitude can help you look at challenges differently and may even encourage creative problem-solving. By reframing difficult situations to find elements to be thankful for, you can refocus your energy and begin to build a life you love.

Recruiting duty was a particularly difficult time for my husband and me. The high-pressure stakes of monthly quotas and extensive travel took a heavy toll. Initially, I was resentful. We had just moved to a new part of the country and his recruiting schedule meant that he was absent for almost every part of our lives, from dinner to family gatherings and more.

It wasn’t easy, but I slowly began adopting a gratitude journal practice, writing down 3-5 things I was grateful for every day. Some days, the list flowed freely. On other days, I struggled to even find one positive. But, I did it. Every. Single. Day. And, eventually, I found there was a lot to appreciate about our current situation, despite the challenges.

Would I want to go back to recruiting duty now? A resounding no. But I did learn a lot about myself during that time and found that we were both more resilient than I ever would have known.

What challenges have you overcome? Were you able to find positives during even the most difficult times? Can you look back now and see how much you’ve grown as a person as a result of that experience?

Overcoming hurdles is easier when you appreciate the small things.

5. Small Gestures, Big Impact

Sometimes, the smallest effort produces the biggest impact. Small acts of kindness and gratitude can make a significant impact on the lives of military members and their families, including yours.

Here are a few simple ways to express gratitude in your daily life:

  • Every morning, after you wake up and before you reach for your phone, think of one thing you are thankful for and one thing you are excited about that day.
  • Start a gratitude journal.
  • Say “Thank You.” Liberally. To everyone. Especially military families.
  • Give a compliment.
  • Show your appreciation with a homemade meal, dessert, or craft.
  • Call a friend or family member to let them know you were thinking of them.
  • Show up. Be there when someone needs you.

Foster gratitude with small, deliberate actions.

6. Resources and Tools for Fostering Gratitude

Cultivating a habit of gratitude can be easy with the right tools. For me, I found the practice of writing in a gratitude journal to be soothing and grounding, a great way to end my day. But there are so many ways to foster gratitude.

Gratitude Journal

A dedicated gratitude journal can take the guesswork out of your daily practice. You can find these in almost any store that sells books or create your own with a blank notebook. If you plan to purchase a gratitude journal, consider this 52-week Self-Reflection and Gratitude Journal, created by and for military spouses on Spouse-ly.

Meditation Guidance

Take an entire course on appreciation or choose a single meditation with a focus on gratitude with a free membership to Headspace, courtesy of Blue Star Families perks. Or, simply take a few moments to center yourself in present awareness and extend a loving-kindness meditation to those you cherish the most.

Podcasts That Uplift

Tune into the Mindful Military Spouse for a guided meditation on gratitude and a little camaraderie. The host usually shares a bit about her military spouse journey before diving in, including life overseas while growing a family. Or subscribe to Optimal Living Daily, where a different personal development article is read each day. You’ll be reminded that we’re all a work in progress and that we each have so much to be thankful for.

Find a practice or tool that cultivates your gratitude, then give back.

7. Giving Back

One of the best ways to extend gratitude is to give back. It’s a tangible way to thank an organization that is close to your heart or one that supports the military community, such as the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA). Whether you donate, volunteer, or spread the word about the organization, you’re helping to make a difference in the lives of others. And that simple act of giving can boost your mood, making you more grateful in return. It’s a win-win.

Ways to Give Back:

  • Donate goods
  • Volunteer your time
  • Draw on your expertise
  • Fundraise
  • Give Money
  • Share blogs, social media posts, etc.

Giving back is the greatest act of good.

The ASYMCA is Thankful for You!

The amazing thing about gratitude is that it compounds. The ASYMCA is so deeply grateful to all service members and military families that it has made it their mission to improve the well-being of families like yours in spirit, mind, and body. With a focus on junior enlisted families, the ASYMCA provides essential programs to ensure access to resources, foster relationships, and create opportunities for everyone to learn, grow, and thrive. Through these services, the ASYMCA empowers you to flourish where you are. And the more you bloom, the more thankful you’ll be. Gratitude begets gratitude.

Wishing each of you joy, positivity, and continued growth.

Learn More About ASYMCA