Excuse the sensational subject line… it felt necessary.
The topic of gratitude is something I spoke about recently with a friend of mine, and we got pretty passionate about it. It’s especially present with the residual feelings of Thanksgiving in the air and Christmas fast approaching.
As we riffed on the topic, we agreed that there is an almost constant suggestion out there in the personal development/self-actualisation community that we must be grateful for what we have.
Frankly, that’s really hard to swallow when you feel like you’re paddling against the tide of life.
Sometimes we’re told to write gratitude lists and journal about all the things in our lives we’re grateful for in order to “re-wire” our brains to see more things that enable us to feel good, or… abundant.
Anne’s gratitude list 30/11/22:
1. A dog in the park wagged its tail when it looked at me.
2. My house is warm.
3. My friend text me today to see how I was going.
Ahhh… crisis averted...
I think not.
Gratitude lists definitely can help us feel more centred. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater water.
However, if you try to manufacture a sense of gratitude in this way when it doesn’t really feel true, it can be a form of what I call “spiritual bypassing”. This is the process of intentionally ignoring and hence not addressing underlying difficult feelings and emotions. It removes you from the truth of your experience.
Plus, it does little to influence your neurobiology (i.e. it’s probably not going to re-wire you). Sometimes, things are just hard.
(Thankfully, as Glennon Doyle says, “You can do hard things.”)
Anecdotally, what I have observed in my coaching practice over the last years is that gratitude can be particularly difficult to access in a true and meaningful way if your relationship with yourself is not very healthy.
Many of us hold a collection of beliefs about ourselves that are at best untrue, and at worst deeply painful and even debilitating. And much of the time, such beliefs are held in the subconscious mind, so we don’t have a recognisable awareness of them.
I’m not good enough.
I’m not worthy.
I can’t make mistakes (or else).
I’m not safe.
I don’t belong.
I can’t connect.
So imagine that one part of your mind is thinking one of these things listed above (for instance), and another part of your mind is being instructed to feel an emotion which is at the resonance of receivership–thankfulness, appreciation, a so-called pro-social emotion–gratitude.
It’s a conflicting set of beliefs.
No wonder you feel some resistance or even resentment toward a practise that is forcing you to feel something that is at odds with you inner experience.
If you recognise this in yourself, let this be your invitation to take a more honest look at the relationship you have with yourself, and decide to put some energy there. It’s not your fault if you find it difficult to practise love and care in the context of you. If you’re in that situation, it’s because you’re human, which means you’re subject to some rather complicated and sometimes dysfunctional mental and emotional conditioning processes that take place through life–beginning earlier than your first memories.
However, the great news is, because of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change), you get to take responsibility for building the capacity of your powerful mind to seek out and focus on things that give you a greater sense of well-being.
Self-forgiveness is one of the tools that is available to you in working on that internal relationship. This process can help to create more peace inside of you. If this is something you feel could use some attention, I wrote about self-forgiveness here:
If you read this article and you find that it’s difficult to take in the concepts and create your “new truth”, that’s a possible sign that there are some more difficult emotions that may need to be looked at first. Compassionately. You could try journaling about that, talking to a trusted friend or adviser or engaging with therapy or coaching or religious counsel.
You don’t have to, but you could choose to if you feel it’s your time.
Back to gratitude. Despite the snide opening remarks, I really believe in this as a practise and recommend you go directly to one of my favourite sources to learn more about it - Dr Andrew Huberman:
The Science of Gratitude & How to Build a Gratitude Practice
This listening session is just under 90 minutes, and it offers a no-nonsense science-backed analysis of what works and what doesn't when it comes to practising gratitude.
I’m going to be a little bit of a spoiler here and give away one of the secrets Dr Huberman unlocks… one of the most effective ways to re-wire your brain through gratitude is through receiving gratitude.
Yes, it’s not about sitting down with a pen and paper and making a list. It’s those times where someone shares their appreciation for you, and you are truly present with it, allowing yourself to feel it. It could be from a colleague, a friend, your partner, someone on the street.
And you know how hard it is to really receive appreciation when you’re at war with yourself, right? This is why I offered the reflections on self-forgiveness today, too–I really believe that is one of the keys to let yourself receive the gratitude and appreciation that already exists around you.
There is much more in this episode, so if reprogramming yourself away from focusing on the shadows toward the focusing on the light is something that feels important to you, then flag this one to work on.
It’s time to let yourself have what you already have, and it’s okay if that takes a little time and a little practise.
It might begin with listening to a podcast and creating a simply weekly practice to sit honestly with yourself.
It might begin with exploring your belief systems and forgiving yourself.
It doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that you know that you deserve to feel good - you deserve to let yourself have what you already have. You get to start today.
Walking the path with you. And I am truly grateful that you’re here with me. Really receive that.
TL;DR - Gratitude can be great, if practised in a way that does not deny ones personal truth. Forgive yourself, then be grateful. There are clever science-backed ways to boost the effectiveness of your gratitude practise in terms of the impact it has on your brain.
How can I help?
Check out my recent article on forgiveness.
Are you looking for personal support as you go through a life transition, plan for something new, or decide once and for all to change the relationship you have with yourself? Apply for a 1:1 Power Hour session with me where we can explore the possibilities of working together. This is brave work. Freedom awaits.