The feel-good community is full of writings on gratitude: How gratitude changes people’s lives. How keeping a gratitude journal makes all the difference. How counting your blessings helps you sleep.
Now, for those of us who ignore the good stuff present, and obsess about what is missing, that is certainly an excellent strategy.
Yet, for those of us who are already trying to convince ourselves that we don’t need anything, that we ought to be 100% fine with the way things are (no matter how crappy), the gratitude strategy may not be such a blessing.
It also may simply not work.
It’s much easier to be grateful for something you actually enjoy, than it is to be grateful for something that annoys, hurts or otherwise upsets you. There is good reason for that too.
The “yuck” response ideally gets us motivated to go after more of what we do like. Yet, if you’ve been conditioned to be modest, not ask for anything, and make things work with what you have, then you can easily stay stuck in yuckiness . Instead of a “yuck –> make changes” mechanism you might end up with a “yuck –> beat myself up for not being grateful enough” and/or “yuck –> practice being grateful for the yuckness” mechanism.
- instead of preparing your food the way you really like it, you tell yourself that you need to be grateful for having any food at all.
- Instead of acknowledging that perhaps taking the bus to work completely wears you out, you tell yourself to be grateful that you don’t need to walk all the way.
- Instead of cutting short a draining conversation, you tell yourself to be grateful for the company.
Now, any and all of those things may be true. Where there’s a cup half empty, there is also a cup half-full. But focusing exclusively on the cup half-full can seriously dampen your resolve to find a better solution.
For those of us who have a kind of gratitude-reflex, we might not even realize how easy it could be to change things. When we take action to make things in our life more pleasant in and of themselves, no gratitude practice is required.
I do believe gratitude works. Yet I don’t believe in forcing it.
Think about it: do you have to convince yourself to be grateful for something you truly love? Is it hard to feel grateful for things that light you up on the inside? It happens automatically right?
So what if, instead of trying harder to be grateful for “what there is” you take that energy and use it to make your life more gratitude-friendly? Make little changes in your life so that you get more of what you really enjoy, and gratitude happens automatically.