Gratitude. It’s not what you think.
Tonight's prompt is more of a PSA than a prompt, but this one has been a long time coming. This practice of writing three things I've learned each day is often incorrectly described as a gratitude practice. It is not. There is a very specific reason for that. Here's why...
A quick search of gratitude on Google will supply you with about a million articles and studies on the benefits of gratitude and participating in a gratitude practice. And yes, they all carry weight. We know that people with a grateful outlook and disposition are more resilient, respond better to traumatic experiences, have higher self-esteem, and even sleep better. It's true, beginning or ending your day taking time to notice what you are grateful for is a good idea. No argument there. But, and there's a big ol' butt.
As a licensed clinician I find it particularly troublesome when people only hold up one side of all the work that comes with gratitude. It's not just one thing. In order for it to be healthy and offer a true longterm benefit it couldn't be just one thing. I would often suggest a gratitude practice to my patients because I knew they were also spending an hour a week with me expressing anger, envy, displeasure, and grief. Allowing ourselves, especially as women, the space to express these emotions is critical to say the least. Professionals who have thousands of hours of clinical experience under their belts know that unexpressed anger often leads to depression (there are also many other causes, neurological included, I am not discounting those here) and unexpressed grief leads to confusion, an inability to make decisions, and an increase in concretized thinking (or the inability to think flexibly - basically the symptoms of unexpressed grief read similar to psychosis). It is of critical importance that if you are participating in a daily gratitude practice that you also hold space for the emotions at the other end of the spectrum. We can be both things. It's normal and healthy to be both things. You can be grateful and really fucking angry. Grateful and sad, even grateful and envious. True psychological health is about holding space for all the feelings and working toward a deeper understanding of what is causing those feelings. So let's choose that!
In honor of doing gratitude the right way, I have shared a suggestion for focusing on gratitude while holding space for the shit stuff too. The shit stuff is important. Especially now. Here we go.
1. The classic with a twist. Write three things you are grateful for each day. You can keep this to yourself, or write it down. Digital or analog. Share or not. But here's the twist. AND THIS IS ESSENTIAL. Give yourself equal space to record three emotions you are having that feel uncomfortable. This is about noticing and acknowledgement. The noticing is the first step. So, just notice to start. Notice what you are grateful for and feels really, really, good. Also, notice what doesn't feel good. You can end right there, with the noticing, or start to think a bit more deeply about the origins of these feelings. Try not to weigh your gratitude or emotions in relation to anything else. Meaning you can be grateful for a safe place to live, food on your table, and a really great parking spot at Costco. Give yourself the same grace with your discomfort. You are allowed to be angry about women around the world not having access to education, and angry about being stuck in traffic. You can honor both.
Today I am grateful for (I like to use the word today, instead of presuming always)
1. The view of the rolling green mountains outside my windows.
2. Fresh air.
3. Spending this time with my daughter.
1. Anger. I'm angry about inequity.
2. Fear. This is all so scary.
3. Grief. Progress always involves loss. I wish this weren't true.
Now it's your turn.
What did you learn today? Join me by using the #thesethreethings and commenting below with your own These Three Things. I want to hear what you are learning, laughing about, and living through.