How to feel TRULY Grateful
At Thanksgiving celebrations, BOTH sides of my family like to have everyone in attendance sit in a circle and share one or two things for which he or she is grateful. In theory, this is a wonderful idea and a great way to shine a little light on the reason for the Thanksgiving holiday (incidentally, it’s not football, family, or wildly overshooting your daily caloric needs. I know. I was shocked, too.) But every time someone says “Okay, lets go around and tell what we’re grateful for!” I feel a small, sniveling, peaked part of myself begin to protest, as though talking about the myriad of astonishing blessings in my life were a painful, unpleasant drudgery that I was being forced to endure in order to gain my reward of turkey and potatoes. In those moments, I feel ANYTHING but grateful. In fact, I usually feel resentful, which makes me feel ashamed, which starts me on a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-loathing.
Perhaps this experience is foreign to you. Perhaps you are an individual who easily and happily discusses the gifts you have been given when called upon to do so. If so, I commend you and suggest adding this facet of your personality to your list of things for which you can give thanks. But for any of you who may have experienced a feeling of resistance like mine, I want to offer you a little reassurance.
First, being grateful for your blessings doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll feel grateful for the opportunity to TALK about them. Not all of us like to express emotions in a large group of people. Heck, not all of us like to express emotions at ALL. And gratefulness, whether or not you think of it this way, is an EMOTION. It is something you feel in your body, and it is sparked by a thought you have in your mind.
Why is it important to classify gratefulness as an emotion? Because once we’ve done that, we know that if we are not FEELING grateful, it is because we are not thinking and believing thoughts that CREATE that emotion. Gratefulness does NOT come from our situation – from having things to be grateful FOR; rather, it comes from THINKING THOUGHTS that lead us to feel grateful.
Somewhat ironically, for me, the thought “I am grateful for my house,” does not make me feel grateful for my house. It doesn’t make me feel anything, actually. It feels like I am repeating something I memorized, or reading from a cue card.
The thoughts that DO make me feel grateful omit the words “I am grateful for” entirely. Instead, they focus on the wonderful-ness of whatever it is that I am thinking about. “I have the most beautiful, intelligent, playful German Shepherd in the whole world,” makes me feel grateful. “I am grateful for my awesome dog,” on the other hand, does not. “My husband is so sweet and thoughtful. I love how he takes care of me.” Instantly grateful. “I am grateful for my loving husband.” Recitation.
Now, you may be different than me as far as exactly what thoughts create your feelings. Maybe gushing about how WONDERFUL everything is goes against the grain of your personality. That’s fine. What you want to take away from this post is that IF YOU WANT TO FEEL GRATEFUL AND YOU DON’T, the reason is that you are not thinking a thought that creates a grateful emotion. If you are sitting in a ring surrounded by people who are expecting you to come up with something to be grateful for (and simultaneously expecting you to say something DIFFERENT than the ten people who spoke up before you did) you may be thinking all kinds of thoughts, none of which produce a FEELING of gratefulness.
“What am I going to say what am I going to say what am I going to say….” does not produce gratefulness.
“I hate this stupid tradition,” does not produce gratefulness.
“Dang, I’m starving. I hope Uncle Bob doesn’t hog all the sweet potato pie like he did last year…” does not produce gratefulness.
“Maybe I’d be more grateful if I didn’t have to deal with morning sickness, a horrible cold, a zit on my nose, and flat hair all at the same time,” does not produce gratefulness (I happen to know this one from experience.)
If you want to feel grateful and don’t, examine your thoughts and shift your focus to something that really works for you. Instead of being annoyed that your mother-in-law made everyone sit down and talk about what they are grateful for, start thinking about how awesome it is that she made most of the food herself without a single complaint, how she is one of the reasons you have such a fantastic husband, and how wonderful it is that she is helping everyone to slow down and really think about their many, many blessings, because Lord knows you haven’t even jotted down a few notes of gratitude in your prayer journal, yet.
If you aren’t sure what thoughts actually make you feel grateful, spend some time over the coming month watching yourself for moments of gratitude. When you feel it in your body or realize it in your mind, take note of exactly what thought prompted it. If you want to take it a step further, write those thoughts down and review them from time to time. Then, the next time you are asked what you are grateful for, you can do more than just recite a bunch of things you know you are SUPPOSED to mention. You can actually FEEL it, too.