Finding gratitude

Julie FlowersFlowers from my kids

We hear it all the time: be grateful.

The duty of gratitude undermines it for me. I don’t like to be told to be thankful. It’s like when your mother requires you to apologize. You mouth the words while you make your heart steely and vow to short-sheet your brother’s bed.

An attitude of gratitude is the gold standard of emotional health. But I hate feeling guilty for not being grateful. I don’t want someone to tell me how good I have it when I feel low. The more I’m supposed to be grateful, the harder it is to feel appreciative.

Just mouthing the words doesn’t change things for me either. The disconnect between experience and language makes me feel inauthentic—like I’m playing the ultimate hypocrite, pretending a zen-like appreciation for the wonder of my life when really I’m secretly pissed that the pipes under my sink are leaking water any time I wash dishes, and I resent the fact that despite all the good fortune and good gifts in my life, that one fact—that one nuisance: leaky pipes!—is consuming my attention and ruining my day!

When I can’t feel grateful, when it feels like a boot camp duty—I know now that some part of my life is out of sync. If I can list ten ways to Tuesday why I should be happy about my amazing list of wonderfulness that is my family and world, and yet can’t feel it, can’t feel the joy or good juju or conjure the spontaneous, genuine language to celebrate what is working and wonderful in my life, that’s when I know I’m doing too much.

Rather than forcing gratitude on top of stress, I discovered that the lack of appreciative feeling comes from a different place.

It’s not that I’m an ungrateful person.

It’s that I’m a too-busy person.

Gratitude requires space—you can only appreciate an experience or a person if you can stand back from it or them long enough to observe the wonderfulness. But who has time to be thankful, to stand in awe of wonderfulness when the danged sink is leaking while you try your darnedest to wash the dirty dishes so that you will be a good mother and homemaker and can start the homeschool day?

How can you appreciate your adorable, healthy, cuddly kids when they are interrupting your thought process as you try to understand the confusing directions to the next page of math?

Worse, what if despite all the loveliness of your overall context for living, there’s the drip drip drip of cruelty or pain in your most precious relationship (with a spouse or child or parent or colleague)? Talk about a gratitude-stripper!

If you find that gratitude is not coming easily for you, it’s okay to admit that. We’re not bad people; we’re just not happy. And we’re not happy for real reasons—real reasons that deserve attention.

For me, when I find that the pressure to perform takes over my life, I lose touch with the joy of living it.

So those reminders to be grateful actually serve a different purpose for me. If the reminders tick me off, I know it’s because I have too much going, and not enough space to enjoy the amazing life I’ve chosen and have the privilege to lead.

I find gratitude when I pause.

I find gratitude when I tell the truth and face it.

I find gratitude when it slips through the cracks of my self-imposed pressure.

I feel grateful when I allow myself to start small and notice the little things.

I’m grateful for a dry basement (it’s raining! my basement is finally waterproof!), for my healthy active adult children, for good tea, for my loving man, for a Brave Writer meeting at a local homeschool group, and for all of you who help me think about life every day…and appreciate how good I have it.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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