"If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get." Frank A. Clark
count my blessings, be thankful for what I have, yada yada. He said it would help with my depression. And I’m sure it would’ve, but when you are in a certain state of mind, it’s just not easy to be thankful, nor do you want to be.
I remember having a similar conversation with my mom, who has been teaching me my whole life exactly what I have to be thankful for. All my life, it worked and I was thankful, but this year, I just wasn't. I made my list of things I was thankful for. I had it right in front of me, but I could not feel thankful for anything. So what do you when a national holiday, nearly every religion in the world, and everyone around keep telling you to be grateful, but it’s just too hard?
First, there are about a million and one reasons why being grateful is beneficial for you and for everyone around you. There are no down sides to gratitude. It increases health, optimism, self-esteem, better sleep, leads to more success, better relationships, etc. Even with all these benefits, why can it still be hard to just not feel thankful? Lisa Firestone, Ph.D explores this in her article, “The Healing Power of Gratitude.”
The first reason Firestone mentions is that we lose appreciation during our busy and routine days. So, then the obvious thing to do would be take a moment to slow down and look at everything you have in your life. Here’s the catch, “Slowing down and living in a state in which we feel more present and aware of what makes us happy and gives our lives meaning naturally allows us to feel more joy, but it’s also a gateway to sadness.” Reflection leads to both happiness and sadness, because being “in touch with matters to us brings us closer to our feelings,” which includes all emotions. Thus, generosity, whether you are giving it or receiving it, can make us feel sad, which is a feeling most people tend to run from, which means you can also push away feelings of generosity.
Firestone says that gratitude can remind us what we have to lose and what we lacked in the past. Her example reminds me of one I’ve been dealing with a lot since having a new boyfriend. I am so thankful for him because he’s the best guy to come into my life for a while. I’ve dated enough, and the biggest problem that I came across with guys is that nearly none of them have respected my boundaries. They have pushed as far as they could past my comfort zone with little consideration to how it made me feel. My current boyfriend has never done that. He is respectful and puts my comfort first, which makes me feel very safe with him. I trust him a lot, and I thank him often.
Yet, even though I’m so thankful for him, I get so scared because I’m not used to being treated and respected this way (which is sad). My instinct is to push him away, because either this can’t be real (what if he has a secret agenda and is just using me to get what he wants?), or I just think this will end soon. Firestone notes, “You may think getting something we want after not having it for so long would make us even more grateful… However, we may also face challenges in accepting love or generosity and expressing gratitude when we experience something that is so different from what we have been used to…”
Even though you can be receiving something you’ve never had before (or haven’t had for a long time), it can make you sad because it’s a reminder of what you have been lacking for so long. Firestone says, “When this happens, we start to feel uncomfortable or unworthy of the things we are receiving.” We can also end up feeling guilty or indebt to someone. You could feel that you owe that person something for making you happy or giving you something. Feelings of unworthiness, embarrassment, guilt, and indebtedness make gratitude difficult to experience.
The good news is that you can overcome these obstacles. We all have a little destructive inner voice that is set out on destroying our happiness. Its purpose is to protect us from harm, but it does more harm than good. Firestone cautions us to not listen to that voice, because “While listening to this voice, we miss out on seeing the world around us through a more compassionate realistic lens.” As cheesy as it sounds, you can replace that voice with a positive one. Many studies have shown that just saying positive things, out loud or in your head, can lead to a more positive outlook.
practice being grateful. It’s the old “fake it til you make it” motto, which surprisingly works very often. Saying thank you, making eye contact, giving someone your full attention are all small ways of showing gratitude. Additionally, practicing mindfulness helps you be present in the moment. It allows you to be more aware of yourself and those around you, which leads to a “spirit of gratitude.” Lastly, she says that we should be more open to our sense of awe and wonder. Being amazed by things greater than yourself, or small every day miracles, can truly put into perspective all that there is to be grateful for.
A “spirit of gratitude” is not something that’s easy for everyone to obtain throughout their entire lives, but it’s completely necessary. I am not going to tell you to count your blessings, but I will suggest that you try to discover why you just don’t feel grateful for what you have. There could be many reasons – from plain old selfish entitlement, to feeling unworthy of receiving anything. When you discover the reason, that is where you should begin your journey to gain more appreciation in your life.
After that, I will suggest what every study on gratitude has suggested – make a daily list of what you’re thankful for, and write it down. When you acknowledge specific things you appreciate, then it makes you feel more grateful and happy overall. If you truly commit to writing this list every day, even if it’s just for a week, try to think of something new to be grateful every day. Equally important it to listen and learn about what other people don’t have. Then you’ll learn to not take what you have for granted. Lastly, just say thank you. Often. To as many people as possible.
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
In the spirit of taking my own advice (and following my own tradition), here is my list of what I’m thankful for today, this week, and this year:
- I slept in and it was great
- I have a whole bed to myself (my best friend had been sleeping over for a few days)
- I’m blogging
- My dog greeted me while I was making breakfast
- I met with my writing buddy, caught up with her, and we both made progress in our stories
- I had a very nice day with my boyfriend
- I had European styled hot chocolate
- I learned about the parts of an engine
- My students behaved better during practice
- I made progress in the books I'm reading
- My dad and little sister called me just to say hi and goodnight
- I got to take my mom to dinner for her birthday where I work and got an amazing discount (went from $105 to $55)
- I made good tips, so I get to put aside money to save, spend, and pay off debts
- I got to eat a lot of pasta and chocolate
- I stopped being depressed, and learned a lot about it
- My old roommates and I still find time to all hangout together
- I picked colleges to apply for and began my applications for a master’s program
- I have really good friends who listen to me, are there when I need them, and are so supportive
- I’m loved by a whole lot of people
- My sister adores me and I adore her too
- I get to spend a little time with my dad whenever I work for him
- My mom gives me her full undivided attention whenever I talk to her
- I got a boyfriend who makes me happy
- I quit a job I didn’t like anymore and started a new one
- My friend and I started a book club
- I started attending bible study
- I feel like I’m moving forward with my life again
The Healing Power of Gratitude