Because it makes you vulnerable. Except it really doesn’t.
I am sitting here with my computer, having made a decision to take on the challenge of writing an article a day for 30 days for The Good Men Project, and I am in a funk.
It struck me this past week as I received my stream of memories from Facebook that just one year ago I had taken on a much shorter 5-Day Gratitude Challenge, over the course of which I agreed to post three things each day for which I was grateful. That seemed pretty easy at first blush, but it was more complicated than I thought.
I made the decision to compose my list every evening so I could use the practice as an exercise in reflection. Even on the worst of days, finding three things to be grateful for truly isn’t that complicated, and yet, it was. Three was both an opportunity and a limitation.
If I said I was grateful for X, Y & Z, did that mean I was ungrateful for D, E and F? And whoever makes it to poor M, N, and O? I didn’t want to leave anyone out.
I also wanted to make sure my expressions of gratitude were written in a way that others could appreciate, or, at the very least, not feel annoyed by. This was a public challenge, after all, not something jotted down in a personal journal and then tucked neatly in a drawer.
My gratitude statements couldn’t be too long because then they would bore people. They couldn’t be too personal to anyone because someone else might feel hurt. They couldn’t be too grandiose because then I might look arrogant. Who made up all of these ridiculous rules for this stupid frigging challenge anyway?? Oh, that’s right. Just me. In my own head.
Remembering that now got me thinking about why it is that gratitude is such an easy emotion to feel, yet so hard to express.
One of the most significant issues I see when working with men and women going through a divorce is that within their marriage they never felt appreciated. When we dive deeper into the conversation, it is quite common to find that all along both spouses did feel gratitude for the many ways the other supported and cared for them, but either one or both missed the boat in regard to actually expressing that gratitude.
Men and women alike become defensive when asked why they didn’t express an emotion they know they felt. “I shouldn’t have to say it to her all the time!” “When was the last time he said it to me?” Why is it so damn hard to just say, “Thank you. I truly appreciate that. And I appreciate you.”?
Because it makes you vulnerable. Except that it really doesn’t.
The dictionary definition of the word vulnerable is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” Makes sense to me to be afraid, then. I know I don’t want to be physically or emotionally wounded, so I am certainly not going to stand on my own personal high horse and tell you shouldn’t be afraid of being vulnerable any more than I am.
But here’s the catch. You are vulnerable. All. The. Time. We all are.
Any one of us could be emotionally or physically wounded at any given time. If showing gratitude doesn’t make you vulnerable in the first place, it certainly doesn’t increase your vulnerability. Gratitude actually protects you.
I can’t think of a single person who ever told me they received a negative response from someone they expressed sincere gratitude towards. Frankly, if someone does get mad at you for saying that they appreciate you or something you’ve done for them, that person has some deep issues going on. I would suggest thanking them, silently, for making you aware that they are not a safe place for you, and then move on.
At the end of that gratitude challenge I did feel brightened. Life can be way too difficult for all of us, and as much as I hate to admit it, corny statements like “count your blessings” have lasted so long because they hold truths. It could have been a truly crappy day, but after I sat and forced myself to jot down my three things, I got myself ready for bed smiling about something each night.
Take a moment to consider what you are grateful for today.
Why haven’t you shared that with anybody yet? You’re already vulnerable, remember?
Go do it.
Photo Credit: Flickr/5ZKfwP