I write a lot about the importance of gratitude for my overall well being. Personally, I often list out what I’m thankful for when I’m feeling overwhelmed with emotions because it typically makes me feel better. But then there are those times where it doesn’t work…
The effort to focus on what we’re thankful for can seem more draining than the overwhelm of emotions themselves. Especially if we’re going through a particularly tough time. It takes mental energy to practice gratitude regularly and sometimes we are plum out of it.
Some of the best advice I ever got was received when I noticed my gratitude shifting into guilt more often than not. Why have some people experienced so much more pain and trauma than others. Why was I lucky enough to get x, y or z and others did not find similar luck? Or the common thought: ‘I feel so grateful for this; so when is it going to be taken from me?!‘
These are all worry spirals caused by an overthinking, negative-biased brain. It can also be fear of vulnerability. We need to let our sensitive side show in order to fully feel gracious. With more than a decade of research, author Dr. Brené Brown has found that vulnerability is not a weakness — in fact, it’s a strength, but not without its challenges.
Brown summed up the concept perfectly for me when she called my fear of gratefulness “foreboding joy”. Yes Brene! It’s a thing! Thank you for putting a name to it. And it can be an all consuming, fearful emotion, making an already stressed heart avoid focusing on gratefulness. It’s probably more common than we realize.
So the advice I received from a friend, was to challenge these thoughts the instant they appear. How would the person who doesn’t have what I have feel if they knew I wasn’t feeling grateful for it; enough to ENJOY it and RELISH in it? They may be pretty annoyed with me and that’s fair.
This way of looking at things turns gratefulness into a duty; the right thing to do. And for better or for worse, I am motivated by “duties”. I love campaigns like “I run because I can for those who cannot” which pay tribute to appreciating what we have for others in addition to ourselves.
With this said, when I find myself in a less than grateful mood, I try to be kind to myself. I try with all my might to show myself some compassion. It’s human nature to question our luck in life or lack thereof. Sometimes a sour mood needs to run its course.
But, to the best of my ability, I slowly bring back gracious thoughts to the forefront of my mind because chances are, with consistency, it will make me feel better. I realize this doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t always work for me. But I hold onto the hope that, with practice, it will come easier over time.
I usually FORCE myself to write a list of things I am thankful for when this negative mood overtakes me, because even if I am not feeling the gratefulness emotion, the act of writing down positive things helps bring back those positive feelings sooner. Not instantly, but sooner, I tend to feel better. When I feel better, I do better. And gratefulness breeds more gratefulness. But it’s ok if everyone isn’t feeling it all of the time. Such is the roller coaster of life!