It’s become quite the buzzword, hasn’t it. It’s right up there with kale and yoga in the perpetual quest for wellness and happiness.
We are told we should buy gratitude journals or download the latest app that will send us reminders that we should be grateful. Ads pop into our feeds with t-shirts emblazoned with, “Thankful, Grateful, Blessed.” And we hear everyone from scientists to pop stars lecture us about the importance of gratitude.
And some days we’re feeling it. The sun is shining and we actually have the bandwidth to appreciate it.
The pressure to feel grateful just feels like one more burden and the inability to reach that goal simply feels like one more failure.
Which kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
The problem with the constant push for gratitude is that it begins to feel forced. As inauthentic as a carefully posed and filtered Instagram image. We do it, but we don’t feel it. And even worse, when gratitude is feigned, we feel a dissonance as we deny what we are really feeling in the moment.
An intentional relationship with gratitude has been important in my healing process from my tsunami divorce. I’ve found a way that works for me to practice gratitude without feeling forced or denying that sometimes life is just hard. Maybe these strategies will work for you too.
Gratitude Without the Bullsh*t
1 – What Are You Looking Forward To?
I try to start every day with this question – “What are you looking forward to?” I take a moment and think about what is coming on that day as well as what is on my calendar for the coming weeks and months. Some of the anticipations are small – a cup of tea brewing on the counter, a pleasant weather forecast or wearing my favorite shirt. Others are more exciting, like an upcoming visit with friends or a planned trip.
When I find that I’m struggling to find things to look forward to, I make a concerted effort to schedule some smiles. Those are just as important to have on the calendar as any meetings or appointments.
There is a caveat to this strategy – you have to keep your expectations in check. There will be times when the looked-forward-to-thing doesn’t happen and if you’re too wedded to a particular outcome that is outside of your control, it’s easy to become disappointed or even defeated. The point of this exercise isn’t to place your happiness on a certain event, but rather to simply recognize that there are always good things on the horizon and to celebrate that excitement that comes with anticipation.
2 – Both And
When we suddenly lost our very special dog Tiger two years ago, it was very hard. The grief was intense and the loss overwhelming. My husband and I dedicated the weekend to remembering him and his impact on our lives. Interwoven with the grief was a gratitude that we had 8 years with this very special dog along with the awareness that the reason the pain was so great was because he was so great.
Finding gratitude through life’s hardest moments is powerful. But if artificially applied like a pigmented lacquer to try to hide peeling wood, it only leaves you feeling worse. It’s important to acknowledge the hard stuff, to be honest with yourself that sometimes life sucks and there are no silver linings.
And it’s also not allowing this great pain to block out all light, to eclipse all awareness of the joys in life. It’s not denying the loss; it’s feeling the loss and leaving room to see the joys. We cannot force ourselves to be grateful for everything, but we can also make an effort to keep our eyes open and look for the opportunities to be grateful.
3 – Reflect On the Totality
I start the day looking forward and I end the day looking back. I spend a few moments (and yes, with a gratitude journal) reflecting back on the day. I acknowledge those little moments to celebrate and I see if I can reframe any annoyances or struggles to see the other side.
Like many of you, my days are busy. Chaotic even. And I find it challenging to be too mindful during much of it as I focus on getting things done and meeting everyone’s needs. This time for reflection at the end of the day acts like a deep breath at the top of a hill where I look back on the path that brought me there, taking note of the moments of the journey.
4 – Give Yourself Permission to Have Bad Days
Guess what? You’re not always going to be grateful. There are going to be days (or weeks or even months) where you can’t see anything but the clouds. Times when the mere suggestion of gratitude feels like an unwanted embrace and leaves you feeling violated and coerced.
And that’s okay.
Horrible days happen.
But you know what?
Good days and good moments within bad days happen too.
Gratitude is about seeing both.