I have a dualistic relationship with gratitude. On the one hand, I see it as an important channel for joy and depth of life experience. On the other hand, it can be hard to talk about it without sounding trite and guilt trippy. Don’t worry, we’re gonna talk about that next week in detail. Today, I want to dig into just why thankfulness can be such a game changer.
Although the political landscapes that brought about a national holiday of thankfulness may hold more nuance than we generally discuss, I do love how we as a country turn our attention to gratitude for the better part of a month.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I think “being thankful for what we have” is important, but I also don’t think we can tell EACH OTHER to “be thankful for what you have” without it sounding like we are invalidating challenges others face in their lives. Like the people who tell moms to “treasure every minute!” when all mom wants is an hour of uninterrupted silence. Is childhood precious? Sure. Is it also terrifying and testing for all parents everywhere? I don’t have personal experience but all my case studies come back with an emphatic YES.
Gratitude breaks down into a few facets for me.
The first is that looking for good things in our lives raises our awareness in general. So to be grateful, we have to pay attention.
Maybe a better adage would be “pay attention to what you have.”
Often, this is the part we miss in everyday life, right? Everything becomes so routine that we move through our days without pausing, without checking in with ourselves or with our people. Or, we are so afraid of what we would have to deal with if we paused, we stay busy as a form of numbing ourselves to get through.
But when we numb the hard, we also numb the joyful.
If we want to up our gratitude game but don’t know where to start, I think awareness is the best place. This is something we can practice even if we’re in a frustrating or hard place in life. We can start to pay closer attention to little things.
The second thing that has to be in place for gratitude to flourish, is a healthy dose of realism. I referenced this above, but if I’m using gratitude as a way to try and guilt myself out of uncomfortable or hard feelings, it’s not going to work. We have to give space to the challenges too. We have to be willing to sit with the hard things if we’re going to embody joy in thankfulness.
So it’s not “BE HAPPY, other people have it worse”. It’s “yes, life is hard, but we can also find joy.”
If we use guilt trip gratitude, the whole thing becomes ingenuine. When we acknowledge the hard AND the joyful, we make space for a full spectrum of wholehearted experience.
The last aspect I’m going to touch on today, is gratitude multiplied. Something magical happens when we share our thanks in a genuine manner, without holding back. Some part of thankfulness dies, when it’s not expressed. Think about it this way, if someone expresses thoughtful, authentic thanks for either who you are as a person, or the role you play in their life, how does that make you feel? Usually pretty damn happy, right? But it also strengthens your bond, and makes THEM feel fulfilled and heard when you appreciate their input. Authentic thankfulness is a relationship builder. As an action item, when I think of someone, or am really thankful for either in an act of kindness, presence, time, effort, or intention that they bring our relationship, I work to express that. It makes them feel valued and seen, and when they know that I value and see them, I feel good too.
So gratefulness journals, and 30 days of thankfulness are great challenges, but if you want something different this November, tell a person every day one reason you’re grateful to have them in your life.
Use your gratitude to build that community, and watch your relationships grow. I'm incredibly thankful for a group of bloggers that have come into my life recently. See what they have to share this November!