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September 3, 2022

When You Can’t Feel Gratitude

This post began as another recipe for practicing gratitude in our daily lives, as I truly believe it is life-changing. But as I wrote it, I realized that Diana of a month ago would have found the strategies incredibly difficult. She would have seen the post as “out-of-touch” and maybe even a little shaming. It had been a really difficult time, and that version of me just wouldn’t have been capable of taking the suggestions.


If you’ve experienced emotional lows in your life (as many of us have after these past few years), you’re probably aware of what is now being called “toxic positivity.” To find the good in every moment sometimes just isn’t possible, and to push that narrative can sometimes be even more harmful. I took myself back to the place I was a month ago, and this whole post shifted to becoming a strategy for not just practicing gratitude when you can, but having grace for when you can’t.


All of our days have beautiful moments to be grateful for, but I learned this summer that recognizing them doesn’t mean being able to feel them. So rather than letting this disconnect make matters worse, I found ways to have patience with the numbness and not let these moments pass forever.


I’m fortunate to tour the world as a professional musician, and despite the amazing crowds, exciting travels, friends, and regained health I was experiencing, keeping a positive perspective was much harder than usual. I could see what I should feel, and what I would normally feel, but I just couldn’t feel it. It was frustrating. Like being wrapped in cellophane. You can feel that there are nourishing raindrops landing on your skin but you can’t actually absorb their goodness. They bounce off. And to wring out this metaphor even more, many of the people around us are dancing in the rain, so we summon the energy to join them, only to feel even more thirsty and desperate at the end of the evening. Almost as if the more beautiful the experience, the deeper the cavern between you and it.


So, I fought the urge to “fix” the issue and decided to wait it out. Not without some intense moments. Thankfully, I woke up one day recently and thought “wow, this is one of the most exciting seasons of my life.” I stepped back and recognized the glimmer of positivity. I felt relieved to have been able to peel back a few layers of cellophane while I still had several exciting weekends left in our tour.


With a few days to pause and reflect, I realized that even though the beautiful moments had passed they weren’t gone forever. I was able to retroactively call up the significant experiences during my darker time that brought me joy, and my feelings about each of those moments began to seep in. I looked at pictures and videos, and remembered the brief seconds when my worries left me and I was fully present, knowing that the scenario in front of me was truly the most important minute of my life. The moments were brief but potent, and they stuck out immediately as I reflected on the summer. I was grateful that I had cataloged them, and they were available to recall when I was ready. And when I did, it was like the warm raindrops finally hitting my skin.

If you’re identifying with this, here’s what worked for me: Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel all the fluttery joy in these moments, but don’t forget them either. Notice them, sit with them, and acknowledge them. Write them down, or snap a picture to jog your memory. You’ll feel them properly again, it might just not be right now. Fake enough smiles to make it through. Come the day that you peel back some cellophane, you’ll be happy you simply honored the supposed-to-be-joyful moments as they occur. And, if you’re like me, you’ll find some day-to-day relief by not pressuring yourself to feel every bit of gratitude in every magic moment. Just noticing is enough.


This whole post is referencing a sincere (and sometimes chemical) inability to find joy and/or gratitude, and I’m deliberately avoiding the “d” word so as not to scare anyone away with labels and preconceived notions. Some of you are identifying with these feelings having never labeled them, and you may have gotten further along in this post because I didn’t label them either. I wrote this piece as an exercise in having patience with myself, and also to commemorate the amazing number of beautiful moments I experienced this summer that occurred during a time that I couldn’t absorb them fully. This is a chance to shed some emotional baggage and remind all of us that there is a magic moment every single day, but we may have to wait a while to feel it. 

A final reminder to myself and all of us: patience with ourselves is a practice, but there is relief and comfort to be found in honoring what we feel day-to-day, without resistance and shame. Sometimes we just can’t. But that doesn’t mean we never will. We can choose which moments to let shine brightly in our memories, and it’s never too late. 

Big, big hugs ???


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