Lately I’ve been seeing #gratitude everywhere I look. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen inspirational quotes, articles and a multitude of social media posts all espousing the benefits of gratefulness. These posts give the impression that a life cultivated with gratitude is beautiful, serene and basically picture perfect.
First off, let me just say, I’m a bit reluctant to write about this. Mostly because I tend to poke fun at anyone who takes themselves too seriously and secondly, because I’m getting the vibe that #gratitude is quite hip at the moment, something I try really hard not to be.
Anyhoo, with a high probability of sounding like Derek Zoolander, I feel the need to discuss Gratitude, what it means to me and what I think of all the ‘inspirational’ posts floating about social media of late.
The concept of Gratitude is something I personally REALLY believe in. Changing one’s perspective by cultivating a grateful heart really does have the potential to completely transform one’s outlook on life. And whilst I totally agree that looking for the good things in your life is beneficial, I can’t help but feel that the true power of gratitude is being overlooked by a misguided desire to search out and focus on the superficial and obviously wonderful things in life.
I also find it incredibly ironic that many inspirational posts combine words such as ‘be grateful for all the beauty in your life’ with a picture of posed perfection unattainable to most (much like my beautiful niece in the picture above, don't worry I see the irony there too). It’s almost as if 'gratitude' is a perfect lifestyle to strive towards, and one that is more readily available if you are both genetically and financially #blessed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self-love, positivity and striving to live a life that makes you happy. I love that in this day and age people are able to take selfies and share their lives with the world. And, honestly, if I managed to hike up Mount Everest in a gold bikini to watch the sun set and do some yoga, right after giving birth with hair and make up on pointe, I’d be putting that all over insta too. And yes, I would be grateful, but my hashtags would more likely be #Imfreakingawesome #somuchcoolerthanyou & #checkmeout.
Well-edited totally contrived selfies under the guise of #gratitude, in my opinion, miss the point of what gratitude is really about. True gratitude is enmeshed with humility, it doesn’t seek approval and it is available to all, no matter what conditions you find yourself in. In fact, drawing on the power of gratitude in my darkest hours, as strange as that sounds, has allowed me to step outside of my ‘problems’ and realise that all seasons of life are beautiful in their own way.
You see, it’s easy to be happy and feel grateful when life is great. When you’re in good health, surrounded by loved ones, have money in the bank and feel like you’re on the right path, there’s much to be grateful for. But experiencing pain, loss and disappointment are inevitable parts of life. For some, it’s constant. There are days and seasons in life which are difficult and wrought with suffering. Through my experience, it is in these times that the power of gratitude has the ability to transform us into better versions of ourselves, helping us to cope with our problems, connecting us to others and making us more compassionate human beings. I’m not referring to the ability to look outside of one’s problems and see good things, such as noticing a beautiful sunset despite the fact that you’ve just written off your car, I mean being able to look head on at your suffering and finding beauty in it.
True gratitude only comes when you can let go of your judgements about yourself and what life is supposed to look like. Then you can begin to focus on the lessons, the reasons and ultimately the blessings that arise from adversity. It’s about going ‘This is effing awful. What can I gain from this?’ It’s not about going ‘this is effing awful, but I’m grateful there’s a rainbow out the window’. Looking for the good things in your life helps shape a positive attitude and this is definitely helpful to get us through the tough times and not to dwell too long on the darkness, however, once you’re brave enough to accept the darkness and appreciate it for what it is, you will be freed from your fear of it, and instead it becomes a huge opportunity for growth.
I can only speak of my own experiences and to be honest, I’m well aware that the problems I’ve encountered are small in comparison to many, but finding gratitude during hardships has allowed me to no longer be a victim of circumstance and instead take ownership of all the many facets of my life. Through health problems that turned many of my core beliefs upside down, I’ve come to truly understand how many people are walking around with debilitating pain. It’s taught me not to judge anyone nor take anything personally from strangers as you just don’t know what people are feeling inside even though they look normal on the outside. It also taught me that I really don’t know much about anything even if I thought I knew it all and for that I am grateful.
Through caring for my mother who suffers among many things, dementia, I have gained compassion for the elderly and for families with special needs children. Actually I've just gained an awareness that for some people, life is hard. Ordinary tasks for people with disabilites are extremely difficult and it’s also incredibly taxing on their families. Small improvements are a huge deal. I never understood this until I lived it. I also never realised how many selfless people there are within our community. I’ve had the privilege to meet some incredible yet ordinary people who have a genuine heart for helping others. Their work is not glamourous nor interesting but it’s so very honourable and makes such a difference to the people they care for. I’ve witnessed true strength and beauty in others and for that I’m grateful.
I was recently talking with someone who had a breakthrough moment about her addictions where she suddenly realised through tears of joy, sadness and apprecitation that her addictions were a tool that were absolutely necessary to numb the pain of her childhood. She spoke of being so thankful for the addictions for protecting her from things she wasn’t ready to face until now. That’s gratitude.
Life is an unpredictable journey. The sun isn’t always shining but I'm learning there’s a different, softer, quieter beauty illuminated by the moonlight. One that shows us our strengths and highlights our weaknesses. One that reminds us we are a part of something greater even though it doesn't always make sense. Gratitude allows me to embrace the parts of my life that I don't like and realise that all things are temporary. For life, I am grateful.