I’m starting to suspect that I have the wrong end of the stick about gratitude. It’s good, in a way. To realise, starting out on an intentional search for gratitude, that everything you thought you knew about gratitude, wasn’t so much gratitude as trying very hard to find the positives in things. Which can lead you to a place of gratitude, but isn’t in itself enough.
It’s a bit like love and marriage. We’ve all been brought up on the myth of “The One”. We gleefully gorge ourselves on a diet of happily ever after romantic movies all about the butterflies and the joy and the “falling in love”. The feelingness of it all. And while that’s not exactly lies, if that’s all you know, you’re missing out. When love is a decision, rather than an emotion, when you decide to keep on growing love even when you really really don’t want to, that’s when the real adventure happens. That’s when you find a whole other side to the story – the uncool side, the messy side, but also the beautiful side, because it’s the side where trust lives. Because who wants to trust something that’s as light and frothy as the love portrayed in movies? But when somebody decides to love you, and keeps on deciding – you can trust that.
But how does that apply to gratitude? And how does that make me think that I know nothing about real gratitude? Because I have been living in a world defined by a frothy “count my blessings” kind of thankfulness. A better have me some blessings club, because otherwise, well, if I don’t have all the nice blessings what do I have to be thankful for? Is it even possible to be grateful when you don’t have anything? It’s a tricky question to answer, because in truth, I have All The Things.
Here’s a truth I have discovered in my own life: being thankful for all the things gets boring after a while. Being thankful for the stuff you feel like you’ve earned, or maybe that you deserve, can be difficult. Making lists of things we appreciate isn’t always an antidote to smugness. And comparing yourself to other people who have less than you, well, that just doesn’t seem right as a route to gratitude. So while the nice things may be a part of the story of gratitude, it certainly can’t be all of it.
And yet, almost everything I know about gratitude is “I’m thankful for this thing, for that experience, for what that person does for me.” When I stop and think about it, that kind of gratitude can turn a person inward, can make a person selfish, because look at me, I want to be able to be grateful for all the things. And that’s not right. Because that’s not who I want to be. Because selfishness, I have observed, doesn’t generally equate to happiness. Selfishness is all about fear – fear missing out, fear of being less, fear of not being good enough.
Clearly, this gratitude built on seeing the positives for me personally is missing something. It’s like the movie version of love – lots of happy feelings but precious little substance. So, I have some unlearning to do.
And for that, I am grateful.
This post is part of a series on gratitude.