Updated: Sep 5, 2019
For many years I was not a fan of gratitude.
I mean, I was happy with my lot, and (probably) privately expressed thanks to some mysterious power that gifted this on to me.
But I railed against the idea of expressing gratitude, gratitude journals and the like.
One reason, was that I associated gratitude with a sort of forced acceptance of misery. I was raised in a Catholic family. I think what came across for me from the sermons and the evening time prayers and the general dourness I came to associate with the church, was that being grateful was a requirement of the role of supplicant.
Be grateful to Jesus who dies for your sins. Be grateful you're not one of the starving millions- being saved by our worthy missionaries, gracing the cover of the monthly church magazines.
Give thanks and be grateful for the food you have to eat, the clothes on your back.
Things could always be worse... so be grateful.
I saw gratitude as as thing you should observe so you don't get to big for your boots. Something to rein you in from wanting more from your life, more money, a better career, better friends, an amazing relationship. Another rule of a church and a dogma which even as a young child I could not make sense of.
Be grateful for what you have. You never know what's around the corner.
Fail to express gratitude and the dear GOD may get wind and snatch it all away.
So I never kept a gratitude journal. I silently rolled my eyes at those who did.
Until the number of people and place extolling the benefits of gratitude forced me to admit there might be something in it. So I decided to try it for a month
Brene Brown speaks about gratitude.
The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude.
Joy and gratitude. That gratitude might be associated with joy was something that had not pierced my consciousness.
Giving thanks before meals was a time to bow our heads and be humble, and be grateful that things are not worse. Be grateful for what you have. The little you have. The fact that others have less.
Joy was something else. The feeling of rushing onto a sunny beach in June, running towards the waves even as the Atlantic winds chased our goosepimples out of hiding.
I celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, and discovered the practice of naming something you were thankful for. The word 'thankful' didn't have the same negative associations in my mind so I found it easier to name the thing.
But still felt a little silly. Like naming the thing could take it away.
Isn't that why you express gratitude, so that mysterious power won't find out you are undeserving and take the thing away?
I decided to find an alternative word to express it. For me the word 'thankful' works, but there are alternatives. Other words that might work:
I take joy from...
I feel blessed with...
I began to take note every day of three things I was thankful for. Before I went to sleep, I wrote them down. A bullet journal I guess. Without the word 'grateful'.
I got a little hooked on it. I even wrote down the three things on bad days, on days when I was exhausted, days I was simply pissed off. Even on those days I searched, and managed to find tiny instances of joy in my day.
Mostly I noted simple things and moments with the kids.
I'm thankful for F falling asleep in my arms today.
I'm thankful for a delicious dinner (that someone else cooked!)
Thankful for a little time on my own while baby napped and the boy was at preschool.
I found myself a couple of months later looking back on the richness of these bullet points, and the simplicity of the things I was thankful for. The joy leaping out from the page. Only waiting for me to see it.
What's your reaction to the word gratitude? Does any of this resonate?
If you do like the idea of expressing gratitude or thanks, it doesn't have to be a journal.
You might set an alarm for the same time every day to acknowledge something- the first thing that pops into your head. You might do a short meditation on all the amazing things you have in your life.
Whatever way you do it, choose the language that allows you to feel the joy associated with these wonderful things, moments, people that stand out in your life, in your day.