The “ G “ word. The buzzword. The magical heal-all word. On more than one occasion, those who know me well have heard me say “f*uck gratitude.” This post has been brewing for a while; it may even be the idea that pushed me to write a blog in the first place. Nothing I say here is meant to be taken as advice. I write because it helps me process, and I hope that my thoughts might help you reflect on how you see things.
As children, anyone my age will remember being told to eat their dinner because there are starving children in a far-away country who don’t have food. We should be grateful because we have food. Sound familiar? Being told we should be thankful for all we have, we shouldn’t cry about anything. Even a little more sinister, we should be grateful we are only getting a spanking. Implying there could be much worse punishment. Those who grew up in the same period will mostly have similar stories. I’m not judging that past; I’m just using these examples for context.
My attitude towards gratitude comes from there. Gratitude was the reason we couldn’t be sad or mad. Gratitude meant that we would somehow magically prevent children from starving. The word became connected to negative consequences in my life and perhaps related to guilt. We recovering Catholics have trouble with that one. Guilty of not being grateful enough.
When struggling with depression these last few years, I’ve heard all the advice about gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal; write one thing you’re grateful for each day; just think of one thing you have to be thankful for when you’re really down. I recognize this as words of someone trying to be helpful. I also understand that this is an essential part of healing for some folks. If it works for you, keep it up. For me, however, these words just made me angry. I felt like yelling, “f*ck gratitude!” I get that it is a me-problem and not a gratitude-problem.
The word gratitude itself never resonated with me. I had no trouble appreciating and being thankful for everyday things that I noticed, but that did not equate with gratitude in my head. If I were to be grateful, there had to be another negative side. Some consequence of my not being grateful enough.
When I was younger, my friend Ellen and I used to go for drives to the beaches all around the Island. We’d walk for miles and take it all in. We talked on each walk about how beautiful the sand was, how the sunset made colours we didn’t know could exist, how the sound of the waves made us feel alive, and how the smell of salt air was the best smell in the entire world. When the word gratitude sticks in my throat, I am brought back to this time. This reminds me that I was always grateful and capable of gratitude. I learned that I could care and be empathetic toward someone who does not have enough to eat, but there is no correlation between that and the number of peas left on my dinner plate.
These words I’ve written may seem simple to some. I am kind of ashamed to say it took me a pretty serious depression and almost 50 years to figure this out. Old dogs, new tricks.
Here are some things I am grateful for: when the sun feels warm on my skin, the smell of the beach, seeing flowers in unexpected places, music that gets into my soul, the smell of the first time the grass is cut in the spring, the energy in the air on the first snowfall of winter, the calm before the storm, the good days that follow the hard days.
Use the comments section to share things you feel thankful for if you feel so inclined.