Gratitude is everywhere. In the last decade, it seems like gratitude has taken over, oozed out of the churches and into the NewAge and is now squarely in mainstream commodified culture. ‘Gratitude’ is on mugs and t-shirts, the focus on weekend workshops and transformation exercises. It’s the panacea for all that is wrong with your life. Just be grateful.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and indeed, a life changer. It can shift perspective, real fast. Every traveled to a country where your heartbreaks from the poverty? Instant reality check.
And when we hone in on people in our life for whom we are grateful, the emotions can be overwhelming, as beautifully shown in this Upworthy video.
But, I have seen in some of my clients a place where gratitude becomes a crutch, or fosters guilt for wanting something different in your life, for believing that things could be better or that you even *want* them to be better! Let alone that you are worthy of having what you desire vs. being grateful and settling for what you have.
What are the signs that gratitude might be holding you back?
1. You are unhappy or frustrated with something in your life, and every time you talk about it, you hear yourself saying, “I know I should be grateful, BUT….”
2. You beat yourself up over the fact that you *do not* feel grateful, or have an ‘attitude of gratitude.’
3. Gratitude is icing… over a cake of more complex emotions that you aren’t addressing. (For example, you love your partner but there are issues. Instead of addressing them in an authentic way, you keep focused on just having gratitude that you have someone.)
4. When friends or family want to talk to you about something troubling in their life, you tell them just to be grateful and feel annoyed.
5. You don’t feel any emotional connection to your gratitude.
All of these dance around a similar theme- and that is leaning on gratitude as a way of avoiding something bigger. Another phrase I like is ‘spiritual bypassing’ which I did not coin, but comes from a book of the same title. “Spiritual bypassing” is essentially using spirituality and euphemisms (it’s all good! just be blessed! have gratitude!) for avoiding what is real, and true. Especially the painful stuff.
There is no question that there is always something to be grateful for, and many of us obsess over problems that might be considered ‘trifles.’ Understanding where we might be getting wrapped/worked up in issues that really aren’t that big of a deal can subconsciously push us into a guilt-gratitude complex. As in, knowing you are obsessing superficially, and then throwing a bandaid of gratitude on top to balance it out.
But again, underneath it all are often deeper issues or real problems to be dealt with such as unhappiness in a marriage, job, or other relationship. Unresolved trauma. Health problems related to lifestyle decisions such as diet, lack of exercise, and taking proactive steps to be healthy. Inauthentic gratitude does not solve these problems.
There is a way out of this maze.
1. It starts will making some space, and stopping excuses. Including gratitude. Finding time to get quiet, simplify your life, find alone time- you can’t figure out what’s really going on unless you give it the space to reveal itself.
2. Start a *true* gratitude practice. It can be a journal where you take a moment to get centered and write down one thing a day you are grateful for. Or, say a simple grace at dinner. The key is to, again, create the space, and allow an authentic feeling of gratitude to bubble up rather than just saying it off the cuff. Gratitude is not blasé. It’s powerful. It should be treated as such.
3. Acknowledge that you can both be grateful for what you have *and* that you deserve all that you desire. It is OK to want more/different/better/smaller… it is creating discomfort in you for a reason. Find out why, then do something about it.
4. According to Brene Brown, people who live whole-heartedly take risks. They allow themselves to be vulnerable. They put themselves out there. I think living whole-heartedly is living from a place of true gratitude. When we have deep gratitude for this life, we take chances, we speak our minds, we make changes because… we are alive. And we are grateful for it.
5. Thanks-giving. It’s an action. Turn your gratitude into works of service and helping others.
I’d love to hear about *your* gratitude practice, and maybe how it shows up in your life.