During this post Thanksgiving meal recovery I’ve been reflecting on the practice of gratitude.
The holiday of course is not without its controversy but something I’ve always loved is its association with gratitude (Well, that and the apple pie… and mashed potatoes… and all other deliciousness.). A day dedicated to appreciating all that we have in our lives.
At this point most are probably aware of the benefits of practicing gratitude on a regular basis (not just on Thanksgiving) so I’m not going to bore you with the same info. Reader's Digest version: We feel better when we appreciate what we have.
But what if it’s difficult to find any appreciation for what we have or are dealing with some really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things?
Of course it’s easier to be grateful when we have plenty of money, a happy relationship, supportive family, friends, enough food, a comfortable home, a new car.
But sometimes it isn’t. We have everything. We know we should feel grateful for it. But we can’t.
So what’s wrong?
There might be an underlying depression, which makes having positive feelings of any kind difficult.
But if that isn’t the issue the culprit is usually a lack of self-awareness as to what’s truly important to us. We’ve bought into a myth that the source of happiness is outside of ourselves so when we don’t feel happy we have difficulty finding gratitude.
Gratitude then becomes even more difficult, if not nearly impossible, when we experience death or a breakup or an illness or any number of things we consider to be negative life events.
The reason it’s so difficult is because of the judgment we place onto these events. No one’s going to argue that these events are entirely pleasant but we rarely-if ever-know enough about the process of life to fully judge something as wholly positive or negative. We’ve all experienced a profound loss of some sorts only to end up with something more gratifying.
So how do we cultivate gratitude when it’s tough?
Don’t judge: There’s this Taoist story about a farmer and his horse that perfectly illustrates this point.
Don’t compare: We all have a different life journey and everyone goes through ups and downs so try not to want greener grass since it might not be your shade of green anyway. Or it might be part of your journey toward the greener grass.
Do seek deeper meaning: People with strong spiritual beliefs often have an easier time with this; however, any of us can remind ourselves that we don’t know everything. And that there may be more meaning or meanings beyond what we initially see. Allow yourself to ask the deeper questions and receive whatever answers may come.
Do go within: Discover your authentic values and motivation. If you’re filling your life up with material items, activities, or people simply because you’re told you should but it doesn’t speak to your soul, gratitude will be very difficult. Values and motivation may also change over time so reflect on this regularly.
Do practice gratitude regularly: Even, or especially, when you don’t feel like it. Fake it til you make it. Building habits doesn’t always feel good but often those feelings come with time and consistent practice.
Gratitude isn’t always easy and it can be especially difficult when navigating life’s challenges. Yet we all encounter these life plot twists and our attitude is often the only tool we have to make it through in one piece. These are a few tools that can help the process.