Lori Dunlap has some concerns about the push for gratitude. She thinks people may be trying to skip the tough stuff.
“Gratitude” seems to be all the rage these days – I’m hearing about it everywhere I turn. Anyone who’s anyone and has a message that’s even remotely spiritual is taking this opportunity to tell us how important it is to be grateful for what we have. Whatever your preferred form of information – magazines, daytime TV, podcasts, blogs, books – you won’t need to look too hard to find someone telling you that practicing gratitude is the single most important thing you can do to be happier. This is good, right? We can benefit from being more grateful for what we have in our lives.
So why am I so annoyed every time I hear the word “gratitude” now?
It’s come to the point that I’m turning the page, changing the channel, deleting the podcast the moment I notice that the topic is “gratitude.” I can’t bear to hear yet another person telling me to notice the small things, to start a gratitude journal, to say “thank you” every time I wake up.
Initially I didn’t understand this reaction – I don’t disagree with the message, and it’s not like they’re telling us to run five miles a day and eat only broccoli (another impossibly “good” lifestyle choice I won’t be making). So, curiosity aroused, I’ve spent some time sitting with and exploring my reactions to this for the past few days, and have come up with a few insights.
The first thing I noticed was a strong feeling of resistance – I really don’t like being told what to do, especially by someone who’s “expertise” I haven’t bought into. Yes, I’m stubborn, and I accepted this a long time ago – it’s part of my genetic makeup, after all (I have family members who could win stubbornness awards!)
But this wasn’t news, so I sat with it longer.
The next thing that came up was a feeling of irritation around the word “gratitude”, like when a mosquito is buzzing in my ear and won’t be shooed away. Maybe this reaction is a holdover from my management consulting days when the incessant reliance on buzzwords like “paradigm shift” and “synergy” made me want to scream. I understand that words like these can provide efficient ways to get ideas across, but their overuse also conveys a lack of sincerity and, in my opinion, suggests a shallowness of understanding.
Okay, annoyance was here, but I sensed there was more, too, so I kept digging.
And finally, underneath all the resistance and irritation, I think I finally arrived at the truth of it: worry.
I am worried that amidst all of the talk about gratitude, there’s not enough “walking” of it.
There’s too much marketing, and not enough practicing; too much of a “magic pill” feel about it. And the side effect is that people will become numb to the concept, like when you say a word over and over again and it starts to lose meaning, and will soon move on to the next trendy fix, discarding this one without a second thought.
This seems to be our pattern – we dabble superficially in something, enjoy the immediate “feel good” hit, and then move on when it gets hard or the next big thing is introduced. I worry that this pattern is holding us back as a society, and setting a bad example for our kids.
Here’s something I’ve learned about gratitude: Until we can be grateful for everything, we can’t be truly grateful for anything.
Yes, it’s good to be grateful for potato chips and soy lattes, for sunny days and the health of our family, but when I hear people say these things I have the feeling they’re often pretending to be happier than they are – like maybe they’re using gratitude to mask deeper sadness and fear, or to ward off the “bad” things.
To develop a gratitude practice that really makes a difference in our lives we also have to be grateful for the difficult things, the challenges, and I don’t hear many of the “experts” talking about this. It’s hard to be grateful for stressful work conditions, for difficult relationships, for financial problems we don’t know how we’re going to solve, but it is possible.
These experiences can help us gain a deeper understanding of who we are, what matters to us, and what we’re capable of, so even in the moments when we feel overwhelmed or unsure, we can at least be grateful that we’re just here to have this experience, and grateful for the learning (whatever that will be) that will come from it.
This is the example we need to set for our kids – to show them that being open enough and bold enough to stay with difficult situations and move through them is possible. We can teach them to ask “What’s the message here?” and “What am I learning from this?” instead of turning to the next book, the next shiny app. And, when we’re writing in our gratitude journals or talking about what we’re grateful for, by all means let’s put daffodils and chocolate on the list, but let’s also consider including the broken water pipe (because now I will notice and appreciate the running water that I’ve taken for granted), or (sigh) even media figures filling the airwaves with the latest great idea – at least they’re helping me watch a lot less TV these days.
What do you think — Do you have a gratitude practice that works for you? What do you think about the recent media coverage about gratitude? Join the conversation in our comments section.
Originally published on Mindful Universe
Photo: Courtesy of the author