|Nov 29, 2018||1|
I used to call gratitude one of those Polly Anna feelings. Can’t you visualize the Hallmark card with pastels, flowery cursive script and gauzy ribbon? Hear the violins of the Lifetime-like soundtrack in the background?
In reality, I was wrong. Gratitude is deceptive, not naive. It’s easy to express appreciation for loved ones and beautiful sunsets. You have no problem going around the dinner table at Thanksgiving to share your gratitude for the food in front of you. It’s much more difficult to appreciate the struggles, the dark days, and the toxic people that damage us along the way. You find it hard to see the beauty in lack. While terrible, these factors shape us into who we are and teach us lessons about ourselves and the world.
Today’s current events only amplify that Polly Anna perception. Reading headlines about nonstop tragedy, injustice, and chaos makes me feel as though all the goodness in the world has disappeared or is surpressed. So instead, I shrug off gratitude. After all, what is there to appreciate if so many have so little? I find it hard to bridge the gap between the horror we see on the news and optimism.
Given the buzz about self care and gratitude, it’s simple to perform gratitude. You write a perfunctory list of things that you feel grateful for while ignoring how dissatisfied you are in important parts of your life or gown scared you feel about the future given the uncertainty you see in your news feed. The transformative power of gratitude comes from deep and meaningful places. Can you be grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow and heal? These experiences often aren’t pleasurable but are nonetheless gifts for us. One of the most foremost researchers on gratitude describes the two components of gratitude: an affirmation of goodness and a recognition that the goodness comes from outside of us.
This definition works in an ideal world but we don’t live in ideal times. You can’t affirm goodness that you don’t see. And if all you see outside of yourself is violence and negativity, there’s no light to see goodness in the world. It would be easy to blame gratitude’s deception on others but that simply would avoid accountability. I’ve often said our criticism of others and fault finding stem from discontent with ourselves about that same issue.
If you can’t see good in yourself, you may have a hard time seeing the good that comes from others. And if you don’t feel good in yourself, it’s hard to accept expressions of goodness directed our way much less seeing the goodness that can arise from difficulty. I fell into this trap mysef even though I’m supposed to be part of the #blessed generation. Compliments and praise felt inauthentic because I didn’t feel as though I was worthy of them. And it didn’t feel like there wasn’t that much goodness to be found because I had encountered so much struggle from other people and places.
Much like forgiveness and compassion, gratitude is most difficult yet most important when we express it toward ourselves. Do you accept compliments with a simple thank you or do you shrug them off or try to minimize them? Do you find yourself finding things to complain about even when if fulfills at least part of your needs and goals? Or do you find pleasure or at least appreciation?
Eventually, I had enough people who both insisted on helping and supporting me despite my repeated rejections of their offers of assistance. By experiencing a bit of goodness, I finally had the evidence I needed to provide that affirmation. Over time, I could better recognize people who wanted to support me and trust them to follow through. Only after this trust started to grow was I able to look back at the earlier negative experiences as gifts for what they taught me about how to not treat others.
I’ve learned from experience that a little gratitude goes a long way. Otherwise, it only increases the battles you have with yourself over feeling unworthy or inauthentic. When I simply made lists of items to be grateful for, I felt as though I was faking positive sentiment. You don’t want to feel guilt or resentment from favors or praise. So give it a try the next time someone throws a compliment your way, you sexy brilliant badass. Or try writing down spoken praise or saving written praise to review at a later date. Because although gratitude is simple, it’s not easy.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.