You Don’t Have To Feel Grateful All The Time
Here in the Northwest, the past summer was shoved abruptly out of the way by cold September and early October rains. Though the skies finally cleared to brilliance the week before Halloween, I have continued to feel that a little piece of the year went missing. Perhaps this has something to do with being older and feeling miserly about time. As grateful as I am for my life and these additional years, I find myself wanting each day, each moment, each season to last as long as it can. Much like the visit from an old friend who you know eventually has to leave too soon, my practice of gratitude is sometimes accompanied by a veil of shadowed feelings.
I was reminded while shopping yesterday that I feel that the concept of practicing gratitude is being kidnapped by self-help commercialism and runs the risk of being mistaken as a practice that vilifies and promises to eliminate negative feelings and emotions.
It was late afternoon and as a young sales person was wrapping a couple of candles I had purchased she glanced across the store – empty of customers but for myself – towards the windows and observed ‘how dark it was getting with the time change and that she felt that “we hardly had a summer.”
I shared having been disappointed myself that the warm, dry weather of August hadn’t lasted longer this year.
She replied, “Well I really hated the rain coming so early – it totally wrecked something I had planned for my kids, but when I mentioned it to my dad he reminded me that I should be grateful that I’m not running from a fire in California or that I’m not a Kurdish refugee. We really are fortunate to live in Oregon and anyway Thanksgiving is coming and I love the scent of these candles. ”
I took a large swig from the bottle of guilt that a man I didn’t know had passed to his daughter, picked up my package and left the store wondering if the young woman would mention her long day or tired feet to her father when she got home and therein compel him to remind her of the gratitude she should feel about ‘having a job and not having been born in the days before the invention of shoes with arches.’
I read and hear about gratitude, I write about gratitude, I practice gratitude, and I am healed and restored to hope by feelings of gratitude every day. But I am also very aware that no positive or healthy things have happened in my life when I have tried to pretend that I am grateful when I was not. Nothing good has ever come from my attempts to hide from my negative emotions. No gains have pulled up to the curb of my life when I have tried to lie myself out of my feelings instead of utilizing my unhappiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, envy – whatever my feelings – as the tools they could be – the impetus for me to problem solve, to work towards and experience change – or in times of loss – to let myself experience being in pain as a path towards reconciliation or healing.
I’m am also aware that no positive or healthy thing has ever come into my life from being reprimanded or made to feel guilty about my feelings by others and encouraged to ‘get over’ them by ‘getting involved,’ ‘ to start looking on the bright side,’ ‘to count my blessings,’ or ‘to think about how bad someone else has it.’
In the United States, the currency of gratitude has perhaps no greater value than in November when we are urged to take account of – and sometimes openly declare in front of a table of others – the things we feel grateful for; our families, our food, our friends, our health, our jobs – our misfortunes and miseries in the light of the weight that others carry.
But, while there are significant and proven benefits to attempting to look for the light in the darkest of circumstances, it’s never seemed healthy to attempt to find gratitude in a circumstance that is bad for us or potentially harmful to our lives and our spirits; to encourage ourselves into complacency instead taking conscious steps that could alter the course of our circumstances and our lives – and sometimes the lives of those we love.
We need to give ourselves permission to not necessarily feel grateful no matter the circumstances if being grateful isn’t what we really feel. We need at certain times and with certain individuals to feel that we are valuable enough to deserve something other than that which brings harm to our lives, our spirits, and our sense of worth.
Earlier this year I wrote that “we all have some degree of doubt about our worth, some fundamental belief that we are not totally okay. When things happen to us, the losses, the illnesses, the set-backs, the periods of grief and longing – the processes of aging – the feelings of being ‘less than’ can become embellished. It is at these times in our lives that learning how to show kindness and give grace to ourselves becomes of primary importance to our healing, to our on-going sense of self-worth, and to those acts of compassion that we will be called upon to share with others.”
Acknowledging our feelings of ingratitude can be a paramount step in turning these same feelings around; a means of self-validation; a path towards recognizing and honoring our needs and our self-worth. We wouldn’t expect our friends and loved ones – well maybe the father of the young sales person who was helping me would – to feel gratitude in the midst of a personal loss, an injustice, an illness, or any number of sorrows – so why should we be any the less compassionate to ourselves?
It takes courage to turn ingratitude into action. It takes faith to trust our inner guidance systems and our intuition. It takes an acceptance of ourselves as a person of value to acknowledge that we are not living the life we feel we were meant to live.
When we give ourselves permission to listen to and honor our feelings of ungratefulness, we can begin the sometimes risky and fearful journey of change; we can move towards gratefulness and away from guilt – move away from the loudspeakers that blare the messages that by not feeling or finding gratitude in every situation that we are in some way not trying hard enough.
It is Thanksgiving time. It is holiday time.
It is that time of year to feel what you need to feel in your personal story.
Let yourself off the hook for resenting the rain, how dark it is getting, your aching back, your tired feet, your unreasonable boss, your broken car, your lonesome heart, the moments that hurt, the things that you cannot change – the terrible, unending missing.
Let go of the guilt for being human and experience – maybe for the first time – the gratitude that your body will feel when you finally exhale after not even having been aware that you were holding your breath.