It may seem like an obvious topic for the week of Thanksgiving…gratitude. What I would like to offer up here are some thoughts on how to do gratitude, when you just don’t feel like it. What happens if we just aren’t feelin’ it right now? It happens to all of us and trying to should ourselves into it, can actually be super counter-productive and keep us in a less than grateful place even longer.
There’s loads of science to support the idea that an attitude of gratitude has a positive impact on our brains and our lives. We even know that when we focus on appreciation or gratitude that we feel lighter, better, more authentic.
And yet… it is quite possible to go long stretches of time where we seemingly forget to feel gratitude. Maybe you recently received a very scary report from the doctor. Maybe someone you love has turned away from you. Maybe you are dreading the holiday season for any number of reasons. Or, just maybe you can’t even point to anything in particular – you just can’t seem to hang on to feeling grateful and this may be the most challenging for us to make peace with – when we can’t point to a good reason to not feel good.
Well, there are some things that can be obstacles to gratitude that aren’t anyone’s fault…
Our brain’s natural bias toward negativity. I’ve talked about this here many times, but we humans are wired for negativity as a means of keeping us safe. The only thing is, we aren’t being chased by saber toothed tigers much these days – so our negativity bias focuses mostly on emotional dangers. In his book “Hard wiring Happiness” Rick Hanson says “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones”. This explains a great deal of why we sometimes find it difficult to feel grateful.
Overcoming this natural brain function takes effort and practice. Gratitude journals, learning to re frame the meanings we place on things and situations can go a long way in being an antidote to this programming we all have.
Another obstacle to feeling gratitude is comparison. This also is a part of human nature. In today’s social media landscape, we have more ways than ever to feel those nagging feelings of being sub-standard in some way compared to others. We probably most often slip into downward comparison, which is where we see ourselves as not as good as others.
My antidote on this one is something we discussed here last week – compassion and seeing common humanity in others and in ourselves. No one makes it through this life without hardship, suffering, mis-steps and failures. When we can keep this in mind, it helps us to see others as people, just like ourselves.
According to author David Emerald, all of us live on a continuum between gratitude and feeling grumpy. Accepting your current emotional state, rather than making it a problem, is actually a leap forward. In fact, noticing that you are not feeling grateful increases your self-awareness, which eventually can lead you up the spectrum closer to feelings of gratitude.
When we can embrace even the part of ourselves that feels more grumpy than grateful, we actually
have a better chance of knowing our authentic selves. This doesn’t mean you hang out constantly on the end of the spectrum where you are grumpy and cranky —instead personally own your current state and take responsibility for taking a few steps that are known to contribute to feeling better.
So, some things to try if you’re not feeling grateful and you’d like to amp up that muscle this week…
Sandy Edie Hansen
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