When gratitude becomes a should

It’s now been six weeks that I have been completely my gratitude practice on a daily basis. I continue to notice how I am grateful for the little things more often during the course of my day and not just during my gratitude journaling time at night.

I am also noticing how often the idea of gratitude comes to mind during the day. I find myself thinking in terms what I can be grateful for and how I can remind myself of gratitude on a regular basis throughout the day. But I’m also noticing a downside to this.

I’m catching myself “shoulding” on myself when it comes to gratitude. I’m sure you’ve heard the drill from other people: “I should be more grateful for what I have in my life, so I have no right to complain about the sucky stuff.”

It really jumps out at me when other people do it—this negating of one’s own feelings using the whip that one “should” feel more grateful—but I tend to be slower in catching it when I do it myself because it so often seems reasonable.

Almost everything in life is a mix of blessings and challenges. Nothing in life is perfect. I would indeed be better off focusing more on gratitude for the blessings of the situation than on complaining about the challenges. Gratitude expands my world, and complaining shrinks it.

It makes a great deal of sense, except that gratitude expressed out of a sense of obligation is not really gratitude. Especially when it is done as a way of denying my true feelings, it makes a farce of gratitude because it’s a lie. It poisons the whole gratitude pot for me.

So what can I do in those moments when I am not feeling very grateful even though I know that focusing on gratitude would be in my best interest? I’ve thought a lot about this today in an effort to find a way to shift toward gratitude without denying the reality of my experience in the moment.

I think the key for me is openly acknowledging what I am feeling—even when the feeling is not one that I find helpful. The more I try to pretend that I don’t feel what I feel, the stronger that feeling becomes in an effort to be acknowledged. The more I push the unhelpful feeling or attitude underground, the more it becomes part of my shadow and comes out in ways that I have little control over (and usually wind up ashamed of). So the first step is dropping the “should” and acknowledging what I actually do feel.

Once I’ve acknowledged my actual feelings, then I can actively begin searching for the blessings in the situation—not as a means of trying to force myself into gratitude but just to take the time to acknowledge the blessings even if I can’t bring myself to feel grateful in that moment. By continuing to focus on the blessings, it makes it more likely that gratitude will begin to appear on its own and my feelings will shift in a more helpful direction.

At the same time, looking for ways to make changes to address the challenges in the situation—either by changing the situation or by changing my attitude—is another great way to shift my focus away from feeling resentful and stuck to feeling empowered and strong. This increases the chances that my sense of gratitude will grow as I become less focused on the challenges.

I’m not good at this. I easily get stuck in what I feel and have a hard time shifting it, but I’m learning that the vast majority of the time, what I really need is just to have those feelings acknowledged. This loosens them up enough to allow them to shift on their own.

I think where I’ve gotten in trouble in the past is that I want others to acknowledge my feelings. When they don’t (and let’s face it, people seldom do because they are seeing life from a completely different vantage point than we are), it causes those emotions to dig in even deeper in defense. The reality is that I am the only person who can effectively acknowledge my feelings because I’m the one feeling them.

My goal for this next week is to practice acknowledging what I am feeling without trying to tell myself that I “should” feel differently. Once I’ve acknowledged where I am, then I can start looking for the blessings that I might be overlooking and finding ways to change the situation or my attitude to reduce the negatives. Most importantly, I will remind myself to let go of wanting others to acknowledge my feelings and do that for myself instead. I look forward to seeing the results of this!

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3 thoughts on “When gratitude becomes a should

  1. A huge amen to this! God gave us feelings for a reason. We need not run amok with them, but most of the time, they are there to tell us something. Discernment doesn’t scream at you in most cases. It is quiet—a feeling of something being off. I have one house I clean and I often feel like I should be very grateful to these people, and the opportunity, but of all of the houses I clean, I always dread this one and come away unsettled. I settled into that feeling today and understand that there is a lot of negativity in the home, and things going on that I don’t like, or that disturb me. I hum my way through every other house I clean because the energy in the house is clear, for lack of a better term. My feelings of dread and trying to feel grateful is God telling me that I need to distance myself for my own good. I am rambling…tired tonight. Another wonderful post!

    • Thanks for sharing this story, OneHotMess. This sounds like a big insight for you, and your story is a big help in confirming that I am on the right track with my thoughts on this topic. I so often struggle with really hearing my intuition clearly, and it’s no wonder that I do when I spend so much time ignoring what my feelings are telling me. Good for you for settling into your feelings of discomfort today and finding the cause for it! I wish you much wisdom and discernment as you determine the best way to move forward from here.

  2. OneHotMess – I always look forward to your replies here and your thoughts, as usual, evoked a couple feelings for me tonight. First, LOL, your use of the word “amok” brought to mind the old Halloween movie with Bette Midler, “Hocus Pocus” – the scene where the ditzy character, played by Sarah Jessica Parker I believe, was jumping up and down while saying the word, “Amok, amok, amok!” It’s the only scene that has stuck with me from the movie over the years that still makes me laugh. If you haven’t seen it – I think it will make you smile! Especially that scene now that you have used the word!

    Secondly, I find the places and people that drain me of my energy/happiness/power are those that are most in need of being blessed. I was going to suggest you enter their home after “protecting” yourself with some ritual (prayer, mantra, whatever your belief system is). As I thought of that advice, I envisioned myself in situations such as this. Instead of protecting MYSELF, I usually find myself blessing the house and/or the people who live there or are draining my own joy. You are undoubtedly on a very intimate energetic level with them – you touch their belongings, lovingly cleaning them. Perhaps the greatest gratitude you can offer to them is to bless their home as you clean. Not to say that cleaning in itself isn’t enough of a blessing but, again, if you pray or have a ritual of some sort, perhaps be conscious (sometimes hard to do when fighting off negativity) of offering it while you lovingly clean their space. Just a thought. 🙂 And there’s nothing wrong with protecting your own heart while you’re there – maybe you will find yourself humming a tune soon!

    Hope you find peaceful rest tonight.

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