My Love-Hate Relationship with Gratitude
I have a complicated relationship with gratitude. On the one hand, I appreciate the benefits of it -- nearly everything you read extols its benefits. I'm currently on a positive psychology learning binge and once again, gratitude is high on the list of things to do to cultivate happiness.
Yet any time I have tried to keep a regular gratitude journal, I have not found it to be much help for me. It felt forced and false. Of course I love my children. Of course I enjoy seeing flowers on my walk. Of course I am grateful for the food on my table. But recognizing all these things did not negate the fact that at the time, I was also in an emotional place where I was dealing with a whole lot of overwhelming stuff. And for some reason, the gratitude journal just did not bring me any comfort.
At the time, I remember really questioning what was wrong with me...was I truly that ungrateful? Why was this technique that seemed to work for so many others, not working for me? I finally had to just give myself permission to let it go and be ok with it not "working."
What I am realizing now is that while for many it can be a way to bring some much needed comfort, for me it felt too prescriptive. I have a personality which tends to balk when people (including myself) tell me what I "should" be doing and how that "should" make me feel. At that particular time in my life, adding one more "should" in my life, even if for a potentially good reason, was just too much and felt constraining, rather than freeing.
When I let go of what I felt I should be doing, I was able to find something that worked for me. What I found comforting was a mantra that I could repeat over and over when I got overwhelmed..."it may not be all easy right now, but it is all good". This brought me comfort because it did not try to paper over the fact that things at that moment really sucked, while also reminding me that I could not change the reality of what was going on. That sometimes you can't do anything other than ride the suckiness out and trust that it will not stay that way forever, even if you are not quite sure how it is all going to work out. It also recognized that even amongst the suckiness there was much in my life that was good.
What is interesting is that back at that time, I did actually experience profound moments of grace and gratitude...but they were more spontaneous and I think related to my mantra which helped keep me in the moment and appreciate those times when the suckiness abated a bit. Recognizing those moments of gratitude were what brought me peace.
I'm in a different place in my life now, with things actually going quite well. Yet I'm still not sure I am in a place where keeping a gratitude journal is something that appeals to me. However, I was listening to a Tara Brach dharma talk on Happiness this morning and she relayed an idea that I think might work for me. That is to add on the phrase "...and my life is very blessed" to any self criticisms that might come up (I have a few related to my weight right now that I am sitting with.) This sounds appealing to me, so I think that I will try it and see where it takes me.
I really like this idea that there might be multiple ways to embrace gratitude and that it is ok to experiment to find the ones that speak to where I am at that moment. Hmmm...me finding relief in the fact that there is no "right way" to do something...fancy that.
Funny note: I'm getting a kick out of the fact that my attempt to do a regular gratitude journal even with outside accountability failed as can be seen in my declaring that I was going to do regular TGIF (Trust Gratitude Inspiration Friday) posts a la Brené Brown which only lasted two weeks...