No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.-Elie Wiesel
Oprah, you got some ‘splaining to do. She told me that gratitude would “open up the spiritual dimension of my life.” I would be happier. Less stressed. More connected. Gratitude would fly me to the second star to the right if I just believed enough. So, I did the thing. Gratitude became a way of life.
Every morning, I would begin my day with things I am grateful for.
It started off simple enough. I was so happy and grateful for the birdsong outside my window. I was so happy and grateful for food to nourish my body. I was so happy and grateful for a remote job where I set my own hours. I was so happy and grateful for space and grace to heal. Despite the quiet rage, insidious grief, the pressure to conform to a world I didn’t feel that I belonged in and all the other little feelings simmering away, there was beauty and wonder in small moments.
I was lucky to experience them and I should be grateful right?
It wasn’t just Oprah either. So many other well-intentioned people chided that I should be grateful for what I had. Count your blessings. You are better off than you think. So many other people have it worse than you. Smile through the pain. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Change your mindset and watch your abundance soar.
While there is a ring of truth to their sentiments, the echo was deafening. Earnestly, deservedly so, I wanted to believe these sentiments. What they didn’t understand was the shame that crept in about how miserable I felt and my inability to work through the pain. Every time I felt angry or dejected or frustrated with life, a little voice would pipe up.
“Don’t be a negative Nancy. Think happy thoughts. Smile with gratitude.” It’ll help your mood, they said.
All it inspired was an overwhelming urge to swallow my grief, my despair, my frustration until I choked on it. It was abundantly, painfully obvious that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Something had gone sideways in my gratitude practice. I had effectively gaslit myself into believing that my overwhelming heartbreak, exhaustion, and hurt were invalid in favor of an attitude of gratitude. After all, I could have had it worse than someone else. By invalidating my truth, I wasn’t gifting myself the grace to acknowledge the gravity of my lived experience and the space to process my feelings.
Gratitude isn’t great when you invalidate your feelings. There’s room for the yes and of our lived experience. We’re told to practice gratitude because unpleasant or traumatic experiences are not happening to you, but for you to grow into your highest self. Yes, and the reverse is true. Even though you can express gratitude for those experiences, your feelings about them are 100% valid. You can have both. There’s more than enough space to acknowledge both.
The lesson here is that you can’t compare when you practice gratitude. It’s not the oppression Olympics out here. No one medals in trauma. Everyone has their own story, penned with chapters on sorrow, joy, shame, belonging, and all the experiences that crescendo into interconnectedness. It’s not about who’s crafted the bestseller, but about the language used to script our story. It’s the language of our whole hearts that informs us of what we can truly appreciate in the moment. We just need to listen deeply.
By listening, I understood how gratitude can transform grief into joy and shame into connection. It reminded me that right here, right now is all that matters. If you find listening difficult, try these out:
If you are navigating tough stuff of any kind, your struggle is valid. Your feelings are valid. You are valid. You are allowed to not feel grateful today. Maybe tomorrow, you try again. Keep the light on for gratitude to come home.
Reserve moments of quietude in your day, whether five seconds or five minutes, and embrace the stillness. Find yourself a comfortable seated position. Cup your hands and clasp them together over your heart. Allow the world to slow down just for a moment. Feel the gentle drumming of your heart under your fingers. Let whatever feelings just be in your body. Breathe in this moment. It’s all for you. Can you allow yourself to feel a smile spreading across your face, crinkling your eyes?
Name & Tame
Feelings are friends, not foes. Get to know them on a first name basis. Notice how they feel in your body. Invite them in for some tea and then let them go about their day. Your body, your rules.
You are doing the best you can with the tools, resources, and knowledge that you have access to. Sometimes you make a mistake, but it doesn’t mean that you are a mistake. How did you learn and grow from the mistake? You don’t have to like the mistake, but try to search for the lesson learned.
Make a list of what brings you pleasure. Perhaps afternoon strolls admiring architecture send ripples of joy up your spine. Maybe putting on some Britney or Ariana and cutting a rug tickles your fancy. Perhaps curling up with a cup of tea and a good book fills you with warmth. Write it down and save the list. Select what you need as you need and do the thing, whatever it is.
You can’t be grateful for everything, but you can be grateful for every moment. Is that first sip of coffee in the morning or the plush comfort of a downy pillow all that you can spare gratitude for? Wonderful!!! Write it down. Draw it out. Verbalize it aloud. Whatever tickles your fancy, just allow yourself to experience appreciation for this moment, this breath.
P.S. Oprah, I apologize. You were right.