Is it okay to feel ambivalence about gratitude?
Be grateful! Count your blessings! Thank your lucky stars!
The message is clear—we must be grateful. But what if we don’t feel grateful? What do we do then?
Joseph Stalin said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.”
Obviously he wasn’t on the gratitude train. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving with him? He’d probably start chucking stuffing at the neighbor kids and send the pardoned turkey back to Alcatraz.
Still, ruthless dictators are not the only ones who can feel a deficit of gratitude.
Plain old folks, with everything going for them, can find themselves trapped in a tar pit of misery and self pity—from which they can see no conceivable way out, and which becomes an even greater sucking hole of darkness, when coupled with the guilt we feel for our pile of ungrateful feelings.
Sigh—being human is exhausting.
So what do we do when everything seems grey, and even just articulating the word “gratitude” makes us want to gnash our teeth in dismay?
I’ve found (after a fair amount of teeth gnashing), that even if it irritates me, the “Gratitude Agenda” does not ever let me down. I’ve also found that the easiest way to get back to that agenda, when I feel lost and sad and angry, is to simply act “as if.”
Even if I don’t feel thankful, I can act as if I am.
This means actually smiling and saying “thank you” to our aunt, when she brings her special sausage stuffing to our very deliberately vegan holiday dinner.
It means finding the littlest thing—clean socks, a perfectly ripe banana, the smell of your dog (even if he stinks, it means he’s there)—and carefully sounding out the words “thank you” in your mind.
It means purposefully reflecting on the fact that, no matter what this day holds, we are still drawing breath—and as long as we are alive, we are blessed.
It may feel like we are impersonating a grateful person—that’s okay. The willingness to embrace gratitude—when we aren’t, in fact, experiencing it—is how we can find grace. Perhaps we will stumble our way into authentic gratitude, or perhaps we will continue to be an impostor, but either way—we are doing better than if we succumbed to bitterness.
I write this because it is a particularly tough time of year for me and my family—in a few days, it will be the anniversary of my son’s death by suicide. The practice of gratitude hasn’t always been easy or automatic in my house (it isn’t easy or automatic in anyone’s house), but ironically it is often loss that teaches us what we are grateful for—even if it’s just the ability (which we all have) to act “as if.”
Things I am grateful for today include you, dear reader, as well as the words with which we’ve communicated and this platform where I get to share them.
Happy Thanksgiving! And if we’re still feeling a little cranky, here are some wonderful quotes to get us back on track:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough—and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie
“Thank you is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” ~ Alice Walker
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” ~ John Milton
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Shannon Kringen