December 1, 2016

Why Gratitude can Bite Me.


I’m being smothered by gratitude.

365 bloody days of it in my Facebook feed. Article upon article about its scientific benefits. A friend recommending that I have my children give it a try, since it might help with their tantrums.

I get it.

Gratitude is a helpful practice. It can reorient our thinking. Re-frame negativity.

But if one more effing person recommends gratitude after I’ve just told them about some messy struggle of mine, I’m going to scream. With any luck, my shriek will burst a crack in the confining shell of positive thinking that our happiness-obsessed culture forces on us.

It’s no wonder I’m feeling less than sunny right now. It’s winter. Trees are bare, skies are cold and dark, the world around us is not bursting forth. And yet.

And yet we expect the eternal fruits of summer from ourselves because others demand it of us. Regardless of season or circumstance, we should keep our chins up, find inspiration and, always, always be grateful.

Gratitude can bite me.

It’s like the well-meaning friend who just doesn’t get it. She’s trying to help, but she only makes it worse if you use her to avoid difficult feelings.

And this is how a lot of people like to use her these days.

It’s the polite and sunny way to end a particular kind of conversation.

“I’m so sorry about your favorite grandmother who is dying. At least you can be grateful for the time she had.”

“Yeah—thanks. Sorry for bringing up the whole dying grandmother thing. I didn’t mean to be such a downer.”

Why are sadness, grief, anger, fear, or disappointment so disturbing that we literally apologize for sharing them? We wish we hadn’t done it. Sullied the moment, spoiled the conversation.

But gratitude? Steamroll that over someone’s vulnerability any old time. It’s the feeling we’re trying to jack ourselves up on even when it isn’t there. It’s our nervous habit when we’re not sure how to hang out with pain that we can’t instantly fix.

And yet hanging out with pain, with a person in grief, with a bitter sadness, can actually be sublime. There’s a deep sense of wholeness and ease that comes from simply letting the dark winter exist.

That’s why I feel—wait for it—grateful when a neighbor admits in a casual conversation over the fence that her cancer has come back. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I know this is really heavy.”

Yeah, it is heavy, and there is nothing to apologize for. Sharing your heavy reality creates more room for my particular mess, more space for the dark, the sad, the grief inside all of us.

So please. Bring on the downers. What stray puppy-dog facts and feelings of yours have been smothered today by the eternally sunny, productive and grateful waters we’re all swimming in?

Make this comments box your own personal repository of messy truths.

I’d be most grateful.


Author: Stephanie Mackley

Image: Courtesy of the author

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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