It’s become fairly common knowledge that gratitude – even the search for something to be grateful for – can have really positive effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. So, of course I’ve managed to twist something low pressure and seemingly absolutely and universally positive into something negative.
Well, okay probably not completely – but it can feel a bit obligatory and I can judge myself for always defaulting to the same cliched 3 or 4 things whenever it comes to searching for gratitude. Certainly when I’m creating a list of things to share that I’m grateful for – a task I engage in every once in a while as it rolls around as a meme maybe once a year – I don’t think I’m super honest about it. I’m so concerned with what people will think about the things that I’m grateful for that I jump right over the truth to what I think will look good or cool as things to be grateful for.
Like, I’ll certainly express my gratitude for my husband at least once. But I feel keenly aware of how schmaltzy that can sound. If I do a gratitude exercise for a week, I’ll basically want to say “SO grateful that G. still puts up with me and all my shit.” “Grateful again today that G. hasn’t left me yet!” “Today I’m grateful that I’ve a husband who will accept me even though I did nothing of value and I smell because I got depressed and haven’t showered in 3 days.”
Same deal with my children. I’ll do one day of “amn’t I so lucky to have kids” all the while conscious that kids are a difficult topic for lots of people and I’m a half-step aware from coming across unbearably smug. All the same, I don’t really feel able to say “I’m grateful my kids still love me and want to hug me even though I spend half the day dismissive of them and telling them I need space, and another percentage nagging them, correcting them and pulling at them. Not to mention the times I yell.” And I’m not so much grateful as hopeful that they’ll forgive me all my inadequacies in the long run, that they’ll see my love and my intent – despite all that the road to hell is paved with.
Anyway, I got involved in a sightly different type of gratitude list yesterday, listing out some small moments of joy and heart-swelling. Here was a list of ten I came up with yesterday:
1. Warm nights with a silky breeze.
2. A really good cup of coffee in the early early morning, sitting in my dressing gown before anyone else is awake.
3. The weight of a happy dog sleeping in the crook of my legs.
4. Sitting back listening to happy chatter of friends or family.
5. New Stationary.
6. Sitting in a room with one or more people I love, me working on my thing, they working of theirs, everyone content and focused, but still with a thread of connection.
7. Crunching really crisp leaves in Autumn.
8. Impromptu dance party to a song I love.
9. Breaking the ice on frosty-morning puddles.
And there’s so much more where that came from. You know, it’s great, these little joy-moments have none of the guilt that my big gratitudes have associated with them.
The “big” gratefuls all have a slight undertone that’s kind of saying “You don’t know how good you’ve got it. There are people dying in Syria. You were born white and middle-class, with good brains and got a good education. You’ve never faced starvation or the risk of death from any number of minor illnesses, etc. etc. etc.”. Even the husband and kids stuff – well, maybe the reason I’m so conscious of their potential for schmalz is because I know that there are lots of people out there who want those things and don’t get to have them. And my adding them to a gratitude list can seem pretty smug, but not just that – my adding them to a gratitude list has that underlying statement that I take them for granted a lot. In fact, it’s worse than that; I’ve actively unappreciative, even irritated by them at times.
But the little joys, the uber-present moments that I can bring to mind – those are things that I can feel like everyone has the potential to access. Of course, that’s speaking from a place of unbelievable privilege. The truth is that lots of people have lives so difficult and full of daily worry or mental health issues or live in constant fear for their lives, and so they don’t necessarily get to have “small moments of joy”, or it’s prohibitively difficult for them to do so.
So, there we go – I’ve now managed to drag tendrils of guilt into what I’d thought was a nice and uncomplicated joy path for myself.