Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day (my favorite holiday of the year!), and we are surrounded by encouragement to practice more gratitude everywhere we look.
Gratitude is a good thing, and the practice of it has made an enormously positive difference in my life, but it's not always as easy as it sounds.
When we are in the middle of life feeling broken and shattered into bits, the enormity of our pain can make gratitude seem like a distant dream that is out of our reach.
Yes, we know mentally that there are still good things in life worth being grateful for, but our pain drowns out any feeling of gratitude we might hope to muster up.
With all of the reminders to be grateful this time of year, this lack of feeling gratitude just piles guilt and a sense of failure to the pain of our broken hearts. And that's the very last thing we need!
If you are one of those people in the midst of heartache and are finding it impossible to feel much (if any) gratitude this season, here are some suggestions that have been helpful to me and might be helpful to you as well.
Choose your focus
In the midst of a time of brokenness, the situation causing that brokenness looms large in our focus and attention. It seems to be all that we can think about.
So when we start thinking about feeling gratitude, we tend to keep looking right at the situation causing us pain as we seek things to be grateful for. It's no wonder we struggle!
For years, I added to this the biblical injunction to feel grateful in all things and doubled-down my efforts to find things to be grateful for in the brokenness itself.
But then I realized that feeling grateful in a situation doesn't have to mean that I feel grateful for the situation.
Turning my back (metaphorically) on the site of the brokenness for a moment allowed me to find things completely unrelated to it for which I could still be grateful in the midst of the pain without any attempt to be grateful for anything about the situation causing the pain.
For me, this often meant focusing on the small things in life. A hot cup of tea. Blue skies peeking through the clouds. My favorite socks. The color blue.
Learning to seek gratitude in the moment (wherever it can be found) instead of any semblance of for the moment opened a way forward when it felt like gratitude had left good.
I often share the story of how I made and used a set of gratitude beads during a very dark time to use gratitude as a means of healing. It involved using a set of 101 beads to find 101 things to be grateful for each and every day.
This meant that I had to dig deep to find enough things to name. It wasn't enough to just name "flowering Spring bulbs" as something I am grateful for. I had to name every one I could think of individually.
And on it went. Day after day of intense practice of gratitude.
In the beginning especially it didn't always feel like much. It was as much an intellectual exercise as anything at first, but the concentrated practice (101 beads is a lot!) over and over again day after day made a difference. A big one.
The beauty of practice is that it doesn't have to be perfect. It's just a stretching toward where you want to be. The practice itself matters more than the "results," so it takes the pressure off while still moving you in the direction you want to go.
Gratitude beads aren't the only way to practice; it's the just the one that worked for me. But find some practice that you can commit to that will push you to spend concentrated time and energy on gratitude every day until it actually feels like gratitude again.
Drop the should
Most importantly, let go of the messages about how you should feel, and just be with what is.
No guilt. No should. No beating yourself up. It isn't needed, and it doesn't help.
Yes, feeling gratitude can be very helpful in healing. Practicing gratitude is beneficial in many ways.
AND it's ok not to feel grateful if you're not feeling it at the moment.
Be with the pain, the grief, the disappointment, the fear, the anger, the hurt in this moment. Come back to gratitude when you're ready.
Even if you're not feeling gratitude in the midst of your gratitude practice, that's ok. It will still make a difference.
Even if you're not ready to even try a gratitude practice at the moment, that's ok too. It will still be there for you when you're ready.
Give yourself permission to be where you are now and stretch toward gratitude when there is emotional space to do so.
Questions to ponder
What is your relationship with gratitude like at this moment? If it is feeling impossible, what one thing can you do let yourself off the hook and be with whatever you are feeling in this moment?
If you are ready to stretch toward gratitude a bit more, what is one gratitude practice that you could commit to for a time? (It doesn't have to be as intense as my 101 bead commitment either! Choose something that sounds doable for you where you are now.)
The idea of being grateful in, not for, a situation has been a game-changer for me. How does this idea affect you? Does it open new space to find things to be grateful for?
Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow (or at least a wonderful day, if you are not in the US to celebrate the holiday)! May you find at least one thing in your day that sparks genuine gratitude.
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