As a culture, and maybe a world wide one, we have been over saturated with the concept of gratitude in recent years.
Tales of how so and so lost everything in the crash or the fire or the flood, and then he got diagnosed with something severely diagnosable, and then his wife left and even his hamster left and he sat in the ashes, soggy mush, or empty vessel that was his life and in that moment a tiny ray of sun came out, and that sun shone on a tiny daisy, and by god if he didn’t feel grateful for that daisy, and he whipped his Oprah Winfrey inspired gratitude journal out of the left pocket of the shirt on his back and he wrote down that one tiny daisy of gratitude, and he did it again the next day, and then every day, until it grew folks, into a bouquet of daisies, a veritable garden, and he had the courage to start again, and heal his diagnosable diagnosis, and then help others with the same diagnosis, and that made him a trillion dollars, and he now has a new and better everything, the shirt on his back is tailored and even his hamster is MUCH fluffier.
And that is why YOU my friend, should feel grateful, right?!!!!!!!!!!!!
One day a few years back I was having a shit time with a shitty thing that happened, as shit tends to, and lo and behold I ran into an acquaintance-friend who was on a very new agey spiritual path. She asked me, as we Canadians and maybe even a few other cultures tend to do, how was I?
Now I could have said any of the knee jerk polite responses that we all learn and kept my emotional distance from this person, which would have been fine, but instead this shockingly emotionally forthcoming response came out of my mouth along the lines of “Shit happened.” Well cover me in honey and dip me in turkey feathers if she didn’t come out with a long parable about a man who only ever looked at the shit and all he could see and smell was shit. This was “for me”, friends. A lesson in gratitude.
What she needed to hear from me was how even though shit happened, I was whipping out my gratitude journal and counting my blessed daisies, and holding onto my ray of hope that I too would be featured on Oprah, but until then I was content to be an ordinary hero.
Or maybe she needed me to say “Good, and you?”
The problem folks, was that she was very uncomfortable with my emotional distress. And let me chime in and clarify here. I did not fall down on the floor at her feet, dripping tears and snot and using her sock as a tissue. I just shared a very brief indication of what had gone on. Like anyone might do with any number of shitty circumstances. I lost my job. I got divorced. Someone is sick. Someone died. Betty cheated. Bob’s in jail. That kind of thing.
Because her parable was a solid ten minute rant, during which I found myself curiously waiting for the punchline, but also looking around the room for a witness to, bless her heart because this is not a commentary on her character, the batshit storm of crazy untethered in my general direction.
We all know who she is, not literally, but we see her everywhere. We are inundated in our social media with “revelatory” memes that tell us just what is wrong with what we are doing and how we are going about living and how to solve it. Sometimes it’s a top ten list, sometimes it’s what’s wrong with our generation. MOST OFTEN, it comes with big fat finger wag and an enormous “in your face”.
And guess what friends? That doesn’t feel good. And it doesn’t help.
In fact, it often makes us feel worse.
Most of the gratitude platitudes we get are, well, platitudinous.
What we need when we are dealing with shit, or feeling shit, is some actual support, or empathy, or sympathy, or kindness or love. It is NOT our confidante chiming in with the A-Z’s of how we are doing it wrong. We don’t need to be shamed, or told how Jane is suffering so much more heroically than we are and actually looks pretty when she cries.
This is why even friends aren’t always the best source of guidance for us, because they too have been conditioned by all of this garbage, and there is a solid chance they may regurgitate it in your general direction when they don’t know what to do, or how to be supportive and validating without being hurtful or dismissive, and because on top of all of that they are afraid and their fear, triggered by your vulnerability morphs them into a z-snapping, honey you gotta, tough loving, bad ass of wall raising and shit disturbing where every man is a player and every woman is controlling beeatch (or insert favourite stereotype here).
It turns out that The World is scared of scary feelings. What!?? Like Scary Movie, Drew Barrymore in Scream, kind of scared. And the finger wagging memes are like garlic and a cross at your door during vampire season. They are short cuts to avoiding feelings. How to repress and suppress your feelings in one easy step, Bob? Throw in some should and should not’s.
Someone else is feeling it better than you.
Someone else is doing better at not feeling it.
Someone else is more heroic than you.
Someone else is more positive, resilient, palatable.
Jane had a natural childbirth with no meds and actually giggled her baby out where it landed on fluffy blanket of pure joy and never had a problem in life.
John broke four bones and actually had one jutting out of his thigh but he manned up and made it into work not just on time, but five minutes early, and sold twice as many important things than you.
You SHOULD feel grateful, AKA obligatory gratitude, is an oxymoron, friends.
Gratitude is a state or feeling of strong appreciation. You can’t feel appreciation under obligation.
When Mom or Dad tells us we should be grateful what they mean is that it is polite to validate their gift or efforts. Or that they are frustrated because they are working so hard to give us what we need and they feel unappreciated. That is a tough one because whatever is making us sad or angry or dissatisfied has nothing to do with their efforts. There is nothing wrong with learning to acknowledge another person’s effort or contribution, it’s a good thing, but it cannot own or guarantee a feeling response, and our feeling response doesn’t indicate a lack of appreciation on our part. Especially when we are young and don’t know how to emotionally reflect.
Feelings are feedback. Painful ones are telling us something.
They cannot be moral. And if we make them into a moral imperative, we miss the entire boat.
If we are measuring worth by a person’s ability to tolerate pain we are essentially telling the world not to check the oil in the car, even when the warning light is flashing, and then wondering why shit is breaking down!
Are you telling us that gratitude is secretly evil, Erin? Good question Susan. No I am not.
In fact, making a celebration around feelings of appreciation is a wonderful thing. And it can help us feel a sense of peace and joy in our lives. Like taking time to enjoy a meal with family or friends, or hammy or pooch.
The new agers will tell us that practicing gratitude grows more of what you are grateful for.
Well in my experience, and I have been at this a while, the bad things that happen to us aren’t happening because we failed to appreciate. And they aren’t going away because we appreciate with fervor and zeal. Love (and I mean Higher mind, power, self, almighty kind of love) isn’t testing us.
Hurt doesn’t hurt because we are selfish or broken or forgetting to say thank you.
The only answer to a thirsty kid is water.
The only answer to a thirsty heart is love.
If we all take a collective breath and allow one another to feel things, whatever those things may be, without screaming or running or jamming them back into the closet and barricading the door and calling the local priest for an quickie exorcism, we might be able to resolve them a bit better. Less break downs. Less depression, anger, hate, addiction, heart break. Less shame. Less division and competition. More opportunity to let love in —if we stop judging our friends and ourselves for hurting.
We can do all of that and still celebrate the appreciation in our hearts.
But we can’t trade one out for the other. Or stomp one out with the other.
I call it heartfelt gratitude, in order to remind us to weed out the should’s from our thank you party.
And keep the perfect Janes and Johns (the comparisons and the judgments) from clogging up our oil tank.
Today I am thankful for you friends. For your trust and confidence and vulnerability. For letting me make the difference with you, in your lives and relationships and minds and hearts.
Tonight you are at my table, sharing my Tofuturducken and pie.
And if I wish you a grateful heart, it means I wish you so much relief from your pain and suffering that you can sit back every so often and taste the flavours of the feast.
Cheers, blessings, and an Amen
— Love Erin
P.S. If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling sometimes a few sessions of support can make all the difference. Reach out and we’ll find the solution that is right for them.
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.