Recently it dawned on me that, try as I might to feel grateful, the feeling that was running rampant through my days—even my happiest, most exuberant days—was disappointment.
If there’s one thing that can drive you crazy, it’s trying to be grateful when you really don’t feel it. Yet, we hear all the time that gratitude is the key to success, to happiness, to the life we really desire. We’re not supposed to acknowledge disappointment. We’re told to make lists of everything in life that we appreciate.
“Right now, I am so happy and grateful for:
My beautiful family
So many clothes and sheets and towels
My strong, healthy body
Being in that car accident”
For years, I made lists of gratitude that looked something like the one above. I thought being grateful meant appreciating every single thing in my life, good or bad. I thought I was supposed to look on the bright side of things. While on the surface the list above looks genuine and possibly even “enlightened,” the thoughts running through my head were full of conflicts. Sometimes, I actually expanded on each item in the list, providing a subtext that hints at a strong feeling of disappointment, not gratitude.
“Appreciation” … (Subtext)
My house … (It’s falling apart & we don’t have cash to fix it & I hate the neighborhood, but it is shelter.)
My neighborhood … (At least it’s safe.)
My body… (I’m sure the pain in my neck is sending me some sort of message about what I should be doing differently, and if I could decipher that message, I’d probably feel great!)
Being in that car accident… (It was really a good thing, because it reminded me to rest and take care of myself, which I might not have done otherwise.)
It’s no wonder that making a list like that didn’t leave me feeling happier. In fact, it often had the opposite effect. It’s no wonder that in those moments I was feeling down to begin with, making “lists of gratitude” actually made me feel more depressed.
“Why don’t I feel good about these wonderful things in my life?” I would ask myself.
The answer is so obvious and so simple that it’s comical. I didn’t feel good about the “wonderful” things in my life because I was trying too hard to feel good about things I really didn’t want.
I didn’t want to be in a car accident. I didn’t want pain in my neck. I wanted to live in a home and neighborhood that I enjoyed. None of these desires are crazy or out of whack. They are simply preferences.
So, when it dawned on me that disappointment was running rampant through my days, I sat with the realization during my morning meditation. I visualized disappointment as a dark cloud with strong ropes tying it down. I visualized burning those ropes and watching the cloud dissipate.
With that mental space cleared, I asked myself: “What is the opposite of disappointment? What is it I really want to feel?”
I knew “happy” wasn’t the answer, because I’d been feeling very happy overall, despite the clouds of disappointment that occasionally blew into my sunny days.
The answer came quickly: “Appreciation is the key.”
I meditated on that for a while. I repeated “Appreciation is the key” as a mantra and envisioned that key opening big heavy doors to reveal beauty and wonder on the other side. I thought I knew what that meant. I planned to make another list of gratitude later that day.
My meditation ended, and I was playing a little word game when it occurred to me that I had been looking at this appreciation thing upside-down, inside-out and backwards. I had been trying to feel happy and grateful for everything.
Yet, true appreciation does not mean trying to feel happy about unpleasant conditions.
True appreciation is loving the fact that I dislike those conditions, because that feeling of distaste is information I can use. Being aware of my real feelings about any condition or situation enables me to find a thought, condition or situation that feels better. When I am in a state of true appreciation, I know I can always choose thoughts that feel good to me, and I can envision and create conditions that I actually enjoy!
True appreciation means never having to fake gratitude.
Now, I’m learning to love my disappointment. It’s a process, of course, because in the moment when disappointment strikes, it’s easy to revert to old habits of mind that lead down the path to grumpiness and self-pity. However, when I remember to pause, to notice the disappointment, to appreciate the information it’s providing and then seek a better-feeling thought, I feel so grateful. Before long, I don’t feel disappointed at all.
Author: Rebekah L. Fraser
Editor: Caroline Beaton