We often talk about gratitude as a choice, but is it really?
A few days ago, I was working from home. You know, the new normal. I was pacing around and feeling pretty down. I found myself frustrated by the weather, the work in front of me, even the kind hearted jokes of my wife.
I recognized this as a ME problem. My own voice rang in my head, the things we say often in our training with The Crossroad: “Joy is a choice”. “We get to choose our perspective”. “Attitude is one of three things we can control”.
Immediately, I shot into defensive mode. Can’t I just be in a bad mood for a day, I thought. And then, more sinisterly: isn’t that a load of nonsense anyway?
The Power of Emotion
When we talk about doing something even when you “don’t feel like it”, it often seems we are not giving this malaise the recognition it deserves. Parents say it to children. We say it to ourselves. “I don’t care what you feel like” is often our response.
But that feeling is powerful. So powerful.
We want to be lazy. There is a part of us that wants to sulk, to lament. And here is the thing: we want that because it is not always bad. It is like wanting to sleep because you are tired. We want to sulk because we are sad. We don’t feel like gratitude because we recognize something to lament.
Part of the key to getting to gratitude is to realize the idea of thankfulness does not mean pretending everything is thrilling when it is not. Being grateful and recognizing lament are not mutually exclusive. There is room for both.
The problem comes when we overindulge. Just like sleeping, it is something you need to do but can become dangerous if you do it too often. I need to rest. Sleeping eight hours is a viable, wise, and healthy solution. Sleeping eighteen hours is not – I wake up feeling groggy and tired.
The same is true for our lamenting. Take a moment to acknowledge you are sad and there is good reason for it. You are feeling the way you do because of a value that needs to be recognized. Recognize it but don’t overindulge it. We have to get better at remembering that life is not all one thing or another.
Getting to Gratitude
I have never been a fan of the phrase “fake it til you make it”. The word fake is not what we are after here. We are not suggesting you lie to yourself. We are suggesting that there are places within you that you silence for the sake of others.
Don’t be afraid to wake those places up. I can be bummed about a rainy day working from home. But the rain also has a sort of beauty. It is uncomfortable for us to sit in the complicated fact that there are some things about rainy days to lament and some that are beautiful. There are some things about your life that are worth lamenting and some that are worth celebrating. There is even gratitude within the lament, but that is a whole ‘nother blog.
When you don’t feel like being thankful, it is paradoxically a sign that you a) need to not be thankful for a moment and b) that you need to be thankful. You need to acknowledge your pain but not linger in it. You need a fuller, more complicated perspective.
No matter who you are, where you are, and what is going on in your life, there are things you have to be thankful for. What are they? You don’t have to totally abandon the sorrow to grab hold of them. You just have to let go of holding the sorrow with both hands.