As a wellness editor, I know the benefits of gratitude inside and out. Higher quality relationships, fewer aches and pains, better sleep, greater longevity, more happiness and empathy, less depression and aggression, improved self-esteem and mental strength; these are just some of the advantages gratitude offers regular subscribers.
Which is why, for the last few years, I have been madly – deeply – trying to cultivate a lasting attitude of gratitude.
There was just one thing standing in my way: I didn’t really feel grateful for what I had, and when I did, I couldn’t seem to maintain a sense of gratitude for longer than a few minutes, or hours, at a time.
Don’t get me wrong, my life was – and is – great. Objectively, I agreed with that. It was just that when I sat down to write my daily gratitude list, it felt more like I was ticking off an item on my to-do list rather than enjoying an empowering, inspiring, happiness-drenched evocation of thankfulness.
In short: my heart just wasn’t in it.
And believe me, I felt truly horrible. Cue the guilt (I was better off than other people! How dare I be ungrateful), shame (I had one job – feel grateful. C’mon, it shouldn’t be that hard) and ever-racing negative thoughts. Was I courting disaster? Asking the universe to throw me more problems, because I wasn’t appreciating what I had? Or maybe I was simply a bad person?
And so, I employed a tried-and-trusted method: I faked it in the hopes that one day, I would make it. Or, more precisely, feel it.
But the truth was that I couldn’t fake gratitude, because the very definition of gratitude is feeling grateful.
So if I wasn’t feeling it, I wasn’t grateful.
For some people, faking gratitude might work. I’m not one of those people.
And then, last week, everything changed. Somebody made a passing – but lasting – commentary on my success, or rather lack of success, and it caused me to totally revaluate the direction my life was going in. I was hurt. Frustrated. Angered. Because according to some people (and people whose opinions mattered to me), I wasn’t successful. It stung.
If it weren’t for my experience with H+W over the last few years, I may have stopped there. But collaborating with so many wise and enlightened souls inspired me to (reluctantly) move closer to the pain and ask the question ‘why?’
Why was I hurt? Why was I in pain?
And, surprisingly, it all linked back to my gratitude practice.
I was hurt, because there was a part of me that believed I wasn’t successful.
I believed I wasn’t successful, because I wasn’t thankful for what I had, or the magical journey I was on.
And I wasn’t grateful, because I was too focused on what everyone else wanted me to be (and do, and have).
And in the process, I’d forgotten what I truly wanted.
It took shedding everyone else’s expectations of and for my life for me to be able to extract my own fundamental values, beliefs and goals.
And you know what all of this reminded me? That I was living the life I wanted to live. Walking the path I’d chosen. Being the person I wanted to be.
And in that moment, I felt more than just a fleeting sense of thankfulness: I was deeply, intensely, wholly grateful for my life.
What is your gratitude catalyst?
Maybe, like me, you feel like a fraud because you’re madly – deeply – trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, but you’re just not feeling it.
Or maybe sometimes you feel grateful (like on the shiny, happy, sunny days) but when the going gets tough, well the tough get Ungrateful Sourpuss Face (it’s a thing, I swear).
If so, my advice to you is this: find your catalyst.
For me, it took being judged by somebody I love for me to feel true gratitude.
For you, it might be watching a meaningful documentary that opens your eyes to your true prosperity. Or reading a book that makes you realise how wonderful your relationship is. Or talking to somebody who would LOVE to have your career/family/talent/hobbies/whatever.
Hunt down your catalyst in the same way you would chase down your dreams: be relentless. And do not stop until you feel it, from your forehead to your toes.
But most importantly, do not feel guilty, or bad, or evil, for needing to hunt in the first place.
We are all on a different journey and for some of us gratitude comes easily. But for some of us, positivity and gratitude is an art that has to be practiced – and practiced, and practiced – until we get it right.
And that’s okay.