Maybe This is Why You Suck at Practicing Gratitude, Cause This is Why I Suck(ed) at Practicing Gratitude
A couple years ago I was trudging through a fuck-EVERYTHING-shoot-me-now gut-wrencher of a break up. My world and my future had been royally upended by this gentleman I was so, so in love with, who quickly turned out to not be the gentleman I thought I was in love with (complicated story for another time maybe...), and I had to move back into my parents' house for a few months to figure out my shit.
And I sorta wanted to set my life on fire.
I was hurting so badly, I was exceptionally confused and mistrusting of everything, I had no fucking clue where I was going to live, my savings were wasting away, I was still building my business and developing new projects and launching programs and learning to adult and be okay and business-own at the same time, did I mention I was back at my parents house? AGAIN??
My parents are amazing and of course, yeah, it's awesome that I could crash with them at all, but at a certain point as a grown adult woman you just don't want to sleep in your twin-sized childhood bed anymore.
Meanwhile, my ex-guy was moving on and seemed okay, and was kinda making me out to be the bad guy. He was my best fucking friend, but now we were quasi-enemies. Or that's what it felt like.
So in general I was crying a lot and feeling really lonely, and lost, and very angry.
But being a good little student of self-help, and a good little life coach, and a good little spiritual being trapped in this physical fucking realm, I knew that if I wanted to feel better I SHOULD TRY TO FOCUS ON WHAT I WAS GRATEFUL FOR.
As a life-long personal development nerd, I'm no stranger to the tip from everyone and their bliss-lovin' mama that PRACTICING GRATITUDE IS LIKE SUPER ESSENTIAL.
Want to be happier than you are? Get grateful.
Wanna manifest a million dollars? Get grateful.
Want to lead a joyous life of wonder and ecstatic abundance? Yeah--get grateful.
Awesome in theory but honestly, I've never been great at getting grateful. Like most people I know, feeling sorry for myself, complaining, or rolling around in the filth of my own misery just felt a lot easier.
And during that dank period of heartache hell, sure, I could go through the motions of jotting down how thankful I was for clean water. I could consider how nice it is to have clean sheets, or a family that loved me, and that's all well and good, but truthfully? It never felt real.
I was just phoning in my gratitude. Faking it. Trying to manufacture something that felt better, just to escape and "raise my vibration," or something, but consistently...I would come up feeling very empty. And then very guilty, because couldn't I just appreciate anything? How ungrateful and shitty was I??
It wasn't until later that I discovered this one (well-kept) gratitude secret that really shifted how I understood gratitude, and could eventually, authentically fit it into my life.
And I am sharing this annoying secret o' gratitude with YOU, today! Drumroll, bitches:
If you're going through some version of personal hell, it is very, very hard (arguably impossible-seeming!) to feel grateful for anything.
Now this is the point in the standard self-help-spirituality-mumbo-jumbo seminar where some woman in a fucking headscarf with a giant necklace takes the stage and says, "There is always something to be grateful for, sweet child. Just look at what you do have. Focus on what's good in your life. Thank the Universe for your many blessings, even, and especially, when you are hurting..."
And I would have to reply that sure, thanks so much, but frankly: Fuck the fuck off, you giant-necklaced freak.
Sometimes you're just trying not to drown in an ocean of loss/betrayal/struggle/sorrow.
And if you're mid-drowning, and have been treading water for weeks, and some lady standing on the deck of a cruise ship leans over and shouts down to you, "HEY JUST BE GRATEFUL! SURELY THERE'S SOMETHING YOU CAN APPRECIATE DOWN THERE IN THE SWALLOWING VASTNESS OF YOUR SAD, DARK OCEAN!" you're going to feel like a misunderstood failure and also like you want to punch her lights out.
If you cannot find something to be grateful for, it's probably not by accident.
It's probably because you're drowning a little bit (or a lot a bit), and emotionally you're hurting so badly that you actually cannot access the frequency of "grateful/blessed/big-necklace-appreciation," right now.
That makes sense. When you're in some form of earthly hell, it's hard to be grateful for the flames surrounding you.
And of course, if it feels easy, you can totes be grateful that it will not be this way forever (cause nothing is forever), or that you have parents to move in with, or a healthy body, or clean water. In theory there is always something to be grateful for. Headscarf isn't wrong in that regard.
But if you're forcefully trying to manufacture some joy or relief or "good vibes" and it just isn't happening for you, take a chill pill and let yourself be sad for a little while. Get friendly with those feelings.
Because sometimes it makes all the sense in the world to be very, very sad.
Sometimes you feel really lonely and lost and those feelings are not wrong. Sometimes trying to access gratitude in the midst of deep pain is like trying to enjoy being stuck in the middle of the ocean when you're not sure land even exists anymore. That sucks.
It doesn't make much sense to force yourself to feel good when you feel very bad. It makes more sense to make space for whatever it is you are feeling, and to stop resisting or wrestling with it for a few slow moments. It usually feels better to let yourself relax around it. To empathize with your own pain. To stop telling yourself you should be able to feel better than you do.
Part of what made my epic break-up so painful and gut-wrenching is that I kept telling myself to get over it already, and be moved on, and not hurt so much.
But that's not how hearts heal, and that's not how life gets better.
Hearts heal when we can give ourselves a break from the emotional arm-wrestling and judgment we often force upon ourselves.
Life gets better when we stop expecting ourselves to be high-achieving-happy-all-the-time bots, and start accepting that we are these weird spiritual being in this wacky physical realm, and we will never have all the answers, and we will hurt and get grumpy and cry by ourselves in our car outside a DSW, and then go to the gym and cry more in spin class, and then be (somehow) laughing three hours later over chips and guac with friends.
We're complex. So are emotions. So are break-ups. So is a dark, vast, ocean. Let it be that way.
We function better and help ourselves heal by being easy, sweet, kind, and patient with where we are. When we can remember that you just feel how you feel. You are where you are. You don't have to love sleeping in the twin bed, and you don't have to make it worse by telling yourself you should love it. Fuck the noise. Say, "Nope thank you". Because it doesn't work--I've tried.
And when we stop arguing with ourselves for feeling how we feel, and stop trying to force some manufactured gratitude so we can get a shiny gold star on the report card for enlightenment (which doesn't even exist!), we can actually access more authentic good vibes. Honest sweet relief. Real peace. More sustainable, real, genuine gratitude.
And that's the only kind of gratitude I want to be swimming in, honestly.