Even Oprah keeps a Gratitude Journal.
The thing I hate about gratitude is that it feels like a ‘should’ – and we all do enough should’n on ourselves already! True gratitude is a feeling – like joy or sadness – that can’t be forced. It’s either there or it’s not – although we CAN cultivate it.
So when I’m told that the way to happiness is to be grateful, or to keep a gratitude journal or to do gratitude affirmations it drives me crazy! Because I can’t MAKE myself FEEL grateful just by thinking about it or writing a list. On top of that, I feel that the gratitude explosion is another false hope given to people who are unhappy: “Here’s the answer to all your problems – just be grateful!”
We can’t fix our unhappiness by simply plastering a smile on top of things – because we leave a festering wound underneath. We must acknowledge what hurts, what annoys and frustrates us BEFORE we put that positive spin on it. I’m not suggesting we wallow in unhappiness, just that we first notice it’s there. Our feelings give us messages about what’s working and not working for us. If we switch off the painful messages around what’s not working for us, how on earth can we change things?
So, while forcing ourselves to feel grateful is a GREAT way to AVOID difficult feelings – it also means you can’t acknowledge and learn from them. This kind of gratitude only makes things worse.
What Gratitude really means: I looked grateful up in the dictionary and it says, “being thankful for gifts and favours.” Well, there’s the rub right there. So many of us were taught to say thank-you to our ‘olders’ and ‘betters’ out of duty – whether we felt it or not. Like the relative that said, “Now Emma, remember to say Thank-you!” after they’ve given you a 5 year old packet of soggy, hard candy.
So, it’s all too easy to spout gratitude when we don’t really mean it because we’ve been trained – talk about being INauthentic! Saying what we SHOULD rather than what we actually feel.
And what about those curve balls that life throws us? Sh*t Happens. Sometimes life is definitely NOT a gift. Sometimes people do us DISfavours. We’re probably supposed to be grateful for those too.
Yes yes. I’m sure it was MEANT to be. Something better will come up. And if we look for it, we’ll find a valuable life lesson. (Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a DEFINITE silver lining kind of gal – something crappy happens, I can’t help but try to make sense – and something positive out of it).
And yes. I know that if we’re educated, have a job or a regular income, food on the table, a roof over our heads that we’re LUCKY. And I AM thankful. I just struggle with having to be GRATEFUL.
So – where DO I think gratitude is good? Well, I agree that if we can get to a place where we’re genuinely grateful for our lives and everything that happens to us – that we’re probably happy – and enlightened. Hurrah!
I also agree that practicing gratitude helps create a HABIT where we focus on the positive in life – and this is a very good thing. But enlightenment means we ACCEPT what happens to us, not that we just stick a smile on it and say, “Thank-you” when inside we’re miserable; once we’re enlightened we’ll still have days when we’re sad, miserable and lonely – it just won’t scare us any more.
So let’s be honest here. I’ll explore that in another post soon). Let’s stop pretending that everything’s OK when it’s not. I’m NOT grateful when crap happens to me (at least not at the time). Let’s stop lying to ourselves. Let’s stop the dance of hiding our authentic feelings with how we think we SHOULD be.
In Summary: If you’re going to keep a gratitude journal – go for it. Enjoy it! BUT, ONLY record things you TRULY feel grateful for. Don’t put shoulds down. Don’t FORCE yourself to be (intellectually) grateful for something that you’re not. Because this is a sure-fire path to INauthenticity and UNhappiness. You’ll know when you feel TRULY grateful because you’ll feel light and spacious and wonderful inside – even joyful. And THAT’S what we want.
Coaching Tip: And if like me, you struggle with a gratitude journal, I would recommend starting each entry with a list of things you’re unhappy or really bummed about. Then once it’s acknowledged and out of your system, move onto the grateful part. You may even find you’ll be able to genuinely find the things to be grateful for in your first list – but this time it will help you move you forwards…
You may also like this article with a similar theme: How to End UNhappiness!
and share with your friends and colleagues!