The going wisdom these days is that gratitude has a sort of curative power. If we just find enough things in our lives to be grateful for, then our lives will shift and we’ll become happy. It doesn’t mean that life will be all roses, but we’ll develop resiliency, self-confidence, and ultimately be able to create the life we long for.
I’ll admit, gratitude does have power. Focusing on what makes us feel good does shift the chemicals in our brains tied to our emotions. When we fell good, the frontal lobes open up, receive more blood flow, and we wind up feeling more creative, alive, and better able to think through… whatever may be going on in our lives.
It also re-focuses the reticular activator — that part of our brain that starts finding more of what we’re focusing on so that we can keep finding more of it. It’s where the idea of “we see what we believe” comes from and “you create your reality” and “what you think becomes your reality”. Yep, there’s actual science and anatomy and evolutionary truth to those spiritual, new-age ideas — they’re just expressed and talked about differently.
But, I digress… we’re talking about gratitude. Yes, gratitude has power and typically does really good and wonderful things for us.
Until it’s weaponized, anyway.
Women are more likely to relate to this than men are, I believe, but I could be wrong…
Have you ever been in a situation that’s just not working for you? You make the effort to talk about whatever it is that’s not working so that it can be shifted, resolved, better understood or whatever it is, but the person you’re talking to simply tells you that, “You just aren’t grateful enough for all that I do for you.” Or, “You’re just complaining too much and need to learn how to be grateful.”
What a beautiful way to dismiss, gloss over and escape personal responsibility, isn’t it?
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people who really do need to learn to be grateful. I grew up with a mother who was very adept at finding everything wrong with everything. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that what’s really happening is that she loves to play victim. She gets lots of attention that way. Because the complaining feeds a deeper need, I’ve accepted that she has no interest in changing. So, I take whatever she says with a super huge grain of salt.
And, I also practice a lot of gratitude in my life. Am I perfect? Goodness no! I’m aware that having grown up around my mother, my default is set on the more negative than positive side of life, so it’s an ongoing, active practice for me. I feel like I’m doing better and better all the time though.
And yet, I also know that there was a time when weaponized gratitude held me captive.
I look back now and can recognize the signs of abuse that were there early in my marriage. At the time though, having grown up around so much of it, I had normalized those signs, telling myself that, “That’s just the way marriage is.”
But there was also a part of me that knew better. Even if marriage was that way, did I really want to feel this bad all the time? I knew I certainly didn’t want to become as negative as my mother!
So, I did something different. I went to my (now ex) husband and tried to talk to him. His response? You guessed it: “You’re just not grateful enough for all the things I do for you. “
Nope. Truth is, I can be grateful for the good in my life AND acknowledge what’s not working — ALL AT THE SAME TIME. One does not negate the other!
In fact, if we allow gratitude to blind us to what’s not working, we lock ourselves into what’s not working.
For a while in my marriage, I’d hear him tell me I needed to be more grateful and I’d think, “Oh. OK, maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m just seeing the negative and if I adjust my thinking it will all be better.”
Nope. That’s the trap.
Could I develop more gratitude? Sure. Always! But acknowledging what’s not working is not the same as being ungrateful.
After all, gratitude never helped me solve a math problem. No matter how grateful I was for the challenge, or how much fun I was having playing with the numbers, at some point I needed to learn a new skill so that I could address what was NOT working in the equation.
Gratitude helped me stick with it until it was resolved and helped with my attitude toward the problem itself, but it didn’t actually solve the problem.
There are SO many aspects of being an author that are like that too. It’s a skill we need to learn and develop — and there’s always another aspect of it that we can improve.
An attitude of gratitude will definitely help us have more fun and increase the likelihood that we’ll follow all the way through, but when there are moments, days, or aspects when something’s NOT working, we need to face that head-on and find the solution.
Or, I’d love to know what questions you have about writing nonfiction. I believe we all have a message to share and that your voice matters. Feel free to drop your question in the comments here.
I look forward to hearing from you!