The Gratitude Paradox
I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.
These days it’s become more or less common knowledge that having a gratitude practice, as it’s called, is advantageous to our well-being. Indeed, there have been a number of studies that show that practicing gratitude has tangible benefits to our mood, stress levels, and sense of calm.
But what if you don’t feel grateful? Should you fake it?
Well, I don’t think it’s helpful to try and be grateful, to try and be positive, as a way to cover up other feelings. For me, it’s always about accepting whatever we are feeling first.
And it’s not about dismissing things that aren’t going well or about making light of tough challenges and problems.
Or what if you go through the motions because you know this and want a certain outcome – to be happier or less stressed, for instance?
Well, that’s the catch 22. Though remembering to be grateful can for sure sometimes result in a shift in perspective, that is not the purpose of it.
If you’re being grateful to get a certain result, you’re not in the spirit of being grateful for what you have now!
In fact, are you really being grateful, even?
It’s a paradox.
Another paradox, when it comes to gratitude, is doing it out of a sense of duty – because you should, because you have to. It’s become another thing on your to-do list.
Maybe just being asked to be grateful brings up memories from childhood of being told you should be grateful.
I, like many of us, have memories of being told to say “thank you” when I didn’t feel like it.
I was compliant, perhaps, but I certainly was not expressing or feeling heartfelt thanks. If anything, I felt reproached and ashamed.
Think of a child – yourself perhaps – after being required to by a parent or teacher, dutifully saying “thank you” for a present she doesn’t really like. Or perhaps she is being reminded that some children are starving, so she should be grateful for her food. Being shamed or compelled to give thanks is not in the spirit of true gratitude.
In my Facebook group, the BodyIntelligence Community, I regularly post about gratitude, and invite members to share something they are grateful for.
I certainly hope this never feels like something they have to or should do.
Gratitude is something we know to be beneficial to us – the research clearly tells us this. The challenge is to practice gratitude without any attachment to a desired outcome and without a sense of “should” about it.
That’s why one of my favorite phrases and ways of thinking can be useful:
“I am free to _____.”
In this case, “I am free to be grateful.”
When you are free to do something, you are also are free to not do it, or do something else. This freedom has elements of permission, and possibility and choice.
An interesting paradox – yes, another one – is that it seems when we give ourselves this freedom, we are more likely to really be grateful of our own free will.
Someone in my Facebook group shared recently that when she saw my post about gratitude, she immediately felt rebellious and thought to herself, “I am free not to be grateful!” And guess what – she then thought of something she was grateful for. It’s so interesting how the mind can work!
A sentence from the book I’m currently reading – Bliss: One Hero’s Journey, by Gary Ramsey – seems particularly on point.
Our true power is when we are able to abide within the paradox of the dilemma, not projecting any outcome at all.
– Gary Ramsey
So, my advice to you is: Say NO to “should” and “have to.”
You always have the freedom to choose what is right for you in any given moment – whether that is to be grateful – or not.
You can, however, decide to make a commitment to being grateful – even on days you don’t feel like it. That is somehow different. That’s following through on something you have intentionally chosen for yourself. And you can be committed AND know that you are ALWAYS free to choose. Another paradox!
You are also free to choose other words for this practice, if the word “gratitude” brings up unhelpful associations. Maybe for you the words “appreciation” or simply “thanks” work better.
Gratitude is no panacea. It won’t take away all your problems.
I do, however, feel better when I take the time to appreciate – to be grateful – for what I have. It seems an attitude of gratitude is indeed worth pursuing.
In that spirit, I encourage you to give gratitude a try, in whatever way feels right for you – as long as you remember you don’t have to!
If you have a comment you’d like to share about gratitude, please use the space below. I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.
You are also invited to join the BodyIntelligence Community free Facebook group. Click here to join >>
Photograph © tomertu / 123RF Stock Photo
I’m grateful that you reminded me that I have almost eradicated “should” and “have to” from my thoughts. Thank you!
I’m free too — this is an idea I’m grateful to have in my toolbox! Thanks for reminding me of that also… I think about being free to go pick the tomatoes – and then, I’m grateful we had a good crop this year! Next, I’ll try “I’m free to clean up the boxes in my corner of the garage” certainly gives me a bit more space around that! I’ll let you know how it goes!
That’s wonderful, Laura. I think I have eliminated a lot of “should’s” and “have to’s”, but they can sneak in there under different guises! I love how thinking about being free to go pick your tomatoes segued right into gratitude for your crop. Good luck with your garage cleaning, and thanks for commenting!
I’m grateful to have a friend like you, Imogen, who posts blogs that make me ponder. Really, there is always something (many things) to be grateful for, it can just be hard to get in touch with it/them sometimes!
Thank you so much, Sarah. Writing my blogs helps me get clearer, and often bring forth more questions, too! Something else to be grateful for, perhaps!!