I am reading Lisa Olivera's book Already Enough: a Path to Self-Acceptance which is an incredible resource for introducing alternate stories and leading with self-compassion.
If you don't know who Lisa Olivera is, she is a great person to follow on Instagram or through her newsletter Human Stuff. She describes: "my writing and work is centered around creating possibility, returning to our truest selves, nurturing what matters to us, and making room for the unknown, all while finding ourselves in the here and now". It is always a treat when her posts come up on my feed.
I want to share her writing about gratitude:
“Be grateful!” can be dismissive of our real lived experience and our actual feelings. Forcing gratitude can disconnect us from our truth even more. Gratitude isn’t about being grateful for everything as much as it’s about being grateful for something. It’s meant to remind us what's there besides what’s hard. That’s the something.”
This paragraph so neatly summarizes all of the hard feelings that I have about a gratitude practice.
I see so often that my clients will try to force gratitude, optimism and positivity when they don't actually feel that way. I do this too sometimes. Growing up as good kids, we've learned to smile through pain and express joy/thankfulness for every situation.
But some situations just suck. And some feelings are really hard and uncomfortable. When we tell ourselves that we are not allowed to feel the uncomfortable feelings, it creates a distrust in our own intuition. We feel that we must not be a good person if we are having these uncomfortable feelings.
Toxic positivity traps us into thinking that we must be grateful for everything, as Olivera states. A current focus on positive psychology and gratitude as a wellbeing practice has fed into this unhelpful narrative.
This is a good reminder that there is always a something even if there is not an everything. What is one thing that you are grateful for, that you delighted in, was there a small moment of magic in your day or someone you were happy to see? Noticing that is enough for a gratitude practice.
And if you can't find the one thing, you can create the one thing. Choose to savour your cup of tea, call a friend, or put on a comforting television show. The intention behind a gratitude practice is to bring awareness to to small moments of good and remind yourself that good is possible.
Good is possible without needing to force good. Good is possible even if you say no. Good is possible even if you acknowledge your pain and discomfort. Good is possible even if you let go of perfectionism, stop being everything for everyone and learn to live for yourself.