The art of practicing true gratitude

5:29 PM


the power of real gratitude can go a very long way
For those who've been reading this blog for a while, you might know that I've been a huge believer in the Law of Attraction and the power of gratitude for years. 

A few years ago,  I even let you know in on my little habit of keeping a gratitude diary. What you may not really know though, is that REAL gratitude is much harder to practice than you think, and we all fall into a certain trap called "Gratitude out of guilt" or "Guilt gratitude" 

The power of gratitude really came in the spotlight when Rhonda Byrne published her book called "The Magic" (this is an amazon affiliate link by the way). Before this, some were more or less aware of it, most of us knew saying thank you was the polite thing to do, but very few of us really had an idea about what real gratitude is actually like. 

Wait, what! There is a fake Gratitude out there?

Well, no not really fake, but definitely a misplaced type of gratitude. One we all have fallen for at least once...on a regular basis. 

Raise your hand if any of these ring true : 

- I am grateful for the roof over my head, because I know not everyone is that blessed
- I am grateful for the food on my table because many go hungry
- I am grateful to be able to afford to go on a vacation, so many don't have that luxury
- I am upset about the fact my car broke, I should be more grateful, because I at least have a car

Or the stuff dispensed by your family and friends when you are genuinely upset : 

- Stop complaining about how tired you are being a parent, you should be grateful, there are many childless people who wished they were you right now

- Why are you complaining about your weight? Be grateful about it, it means you are well fed, not all have that privilege. 

- Why are you cribbing about your maid stealing from you? Don't you know people would kill about having a maid in the first place.

These are what I call guilt induced gratitude, and it's the wrong way to prcatice gratitude if you want to change your life and affect your happiness. It's gratitude at the expense of someone else's misery, and it's a bit twisted and sick. 
It's manipulative, and has for sole purpose to guilt you into an emotion that you aren't just quite ready to feel, on the principle that if you aren't feeling it, you are an evil ungrateful brat. 

Chances are you've been fed a steady diet of that guilt since childhood. I sure remember mine being punctuated by "Finish your food because there are kids starving in Africa", "You have no idea what tired means", "Stop complaining about the heat, there are poor kids in the desert not even having access to water" and all other kind of delightful crap that insinuate that we don't have a right to feel blue, down or have negative emotions at all. 
Apparently it is very indecent to have worries, complaining about health or being sad about something trivial like running out of our favourite ice cream, or have a hormonal meltdown, because GEEEZ! There are people who have it worse than us anyway. 

SIGH! 

True gratitude has no strings attached

This kind of guilt gratitude is actually harmful, so if you find yourself in the habit of falling for it, watch yourself and start making changes to your routine. Especially if you are among those also saying "The Law of Attraction and gratitude doesn't work" 

Why? Because mis-practicing gratitude is probably the reason why you haven't affected any change in your life. When you attach a dollop of guilt to your gratitude statements, you also implies that there is a lack somewhere. A lack that may not fully affect you, but you sure bring it and its energy to the table and that kind of negate the feeling of gratitude in the first place. 
If you need a reason to be grateful for the food on your table and decide that reason is that some people are starving, guess what you are inviting to your party? Yep, a bit of guilt and misery. Di you really need that to feel good about yourself?

Real gratitude exists JUST BECAUSE it exist. You don't need a reason to feel grateful about having a roof on above your head, or liking your evening cup of tea, or watching a beautiful sunset.  Attaching the perceived misery of someone else to it is not going to make your gratitude more virtuous or worthy. 
It might actually make you sound like a bit of a jerk. 

We have society at wide to blame for it though

For some reason that baffles me more and more as I get older and wiser, we are made to believe that we don't deserve to be fully happy unless we want to be labelled as "selfish" or "fake" of "full of it".

Let that sink in! 

We all deep down believe that our being happy about our own life is a flaw, and we constantly find way to sabotage it, attach guilt to it, or postpone it until we get more of something we don't have yet. 
And yet, paradoxically we also believe we have no right to be unhappy because others deserve that right more than us. 
So as a result, we tend to spend our life in neutral gear : freaked out at the idea of being too happy and be perceived as someone not caring about the misery of others, and not worthy enough of being sad and miserable because there is always poorer than us. 

In the concept of the law of attraction, all this is tied to the idea of "lack" not abundance, and by constantly worrying about not being too happy, we end up shutting down the door to abundance.

Being happy, and feeling whole isn't uncaring

It's not selfish, cold, insensitive either. It means you care enough about yourself to realise your feelings needs have to be addressed before you can be a better person for the rest of the world. 

It's a kind of "In case of cabin depressurisation, put an oxygen mask on yourself before helping others" kind of deal. 

If you are living half a life yourself, how on earth can you help others feel better about their own lives? 

Feeling sad is not a bad thing

Gratitude and the law of attraction teach us that like attracts like and that in the end, it's up to us to make sure we stay positive to attract more positive. 
It's not that simple though, it doesn't say anything about never feeling sad, or upset, it just means that we should not hang dear to those feelings and not let them go. 
Feeling sad is a good thing when it serves its purpose and make you realise you've been hurt, and that you are in need of fixing yourself. 
You can't really know happy if you don't know what sad it like. What is destructive is hanging to that sadness and finding every reasons to hang out to it even when it is time to let go. 

When I find myself spiralling down a path of worries and bitterness because something genuinely upset me, I try to pause for a minute, grab a pen and paper, and start writing about all the things I love and am truly grateful about. 
Not because I want to invalidate the negative feeling, but because I know it's time to tip the scale the other way before sadness consumes me alive and welcomes in anxiety and stress. 
It's not about proving my being upset was wrong, it's about finding more things that make me feel good than there is  things making me feel bad. 

As I said before, it's gratitude with no strings attached, and my gratitude logs at the end of the day end up looking a lot like this : 

- I am grateful for a cool quiet morning
- I am grateful for peach tea
- I am grateful for my favourite art supplies
- I am grateful for a fun evening watching TV with hubby
- I am grateful for that chat with a friend
- I am grateful of the nap I had cuddling with my dog
- I am grateful for the take out food I had for lunch
- I am grateful for today being a cozy type of day

I can go on and on and on really, on a day I felt upset about something, anything, I tend to write a list of tiny things I am grateful for just for the sake of enjoying them so that in the end, whatever I felt upset about no longer occupies center stage in my day. It's still there, but it's no longer that big overpowering thing that was consuming me whole. 
Notice how none of my gratitude statement implies the reason why I should be grateful comes from someone having a lack of those things. 

When I feel grateful, I feel grateful without a reason to it, I just feel it, and that is what real gratitude is all about. 

Say thank you often and mean it

Saying thank you for everything and nothing, is something I never realised is a very Westernised concept until after moving to India. 
In most European countries, we tend to say thanks to everyone for doing small things that affect us, directly or indirectly, and it tend to become a bit of an automatic reaction with time.

Cashier giving you your card or your change back : thank you. 
Doorman holding the door : thank you
Bank clerk saying "Bye have a nice day" : thank you
Waiter bringing you the menu: thank you
Same waiter bringing you the food : thank you
Again same waiter handing you the bill : thank you
Last but not least waiter saying "Bye have a nice day" : thank you

It's been so ingrained in me, that I continued doing it in India and had friends pointing it out, they were amused that I felt the need to thank the security guard at the exit of the supermarket for stamping my bill and giving it back to me.
I found out, thinking about it, that even though I say it as an automatic response, I am indeed grateful for it. Why? Doesn't really matter, I just am grateful for it.
So, fresh of that knowledge, I ended up saying those thank you on a more intentional tone, not because it's automatic, but because I truly enjoy saying thank you to anybody performing any kind of service that affects me, even if ever so slightly.

Saying thanks on a more meaningful tone has its repercussion, not convinced? Give it a try.

All in all, gratitude is an art, and it needs to be practiced in a meaningful way, and whenever you catch yourself falling in old patterns (we all do), act quickly and correct yourself. 
I found that for myself, saying something as "I don't need to justify my feelings" is a great place to start. 

There was a time I need to justify my acts and feelings a lot, so when I realised I was doing it, I made a conscious effort to try to do at least one thing a day without having to explain it to others or myself. When that stopped feeling weird, I increased the quota of "no strings attached" things in my day. Until I reached a point at which most of the things I do in a day falls into that category. 
It may seem simple, but I realised it was a lot harder than I thought, and years later, I still have a few demons to battle on occasion. I think we all do. 

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6 comments

  1. Lovely post, Cyn. At a basic level, we need to practise gratitude. If done meaningfully, it's energizing and radiates positivity.

    I remember being told, when I couldn't eat anymore: "Eat the whole of it on the plate, remember the poor who have nothing on the plate." I used to wonder, by me eating, or rather not wasting, how will the poor benefit? The right way if the poor have to actually benefit is to actually go and serve the poor by putting food on the plate.

    However, all said and done, remembering the disadvantaged -- and not wasting food -- does serve a purpose. It brings a different perspective to our existence; reminds us of other people like us. Not to feel guilty, but it kind of tempers the outlook of the world around us.

    I was once asked: Why are you thanking people, they are doing their work. The person who told me actually missed the whole point of why we say thank you. I have no problem with such people who aren't grateful to their fellow human beings. But I haven't allowed that to influence me. And, I thank the cab driver, the maid, the store keeper, my colleagues, everyone, whenever they do something for me.

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    1. Haha I remember thinking the exact same way when I was told to finish my plate. I know it came from a good sentiment, but the problem is that it was delivered wrong, not wasting food should not be done because there is someone else starving, it should be done because that is the right thing to do period. It kind of feel silly to think that the only reason not to waste food or a finite resource is just because somebody doesn't have that luxury.

      The whole "Why are you thanking people for doing their work" bit is exactly what I got asked after moving to India and my habit of thanking people for everything was apparently very obvious.
      I always wondered how one thing should negate another. Just because someone is getting paid to do something that benefits me doesn't mean I should not say thank you and be grateful about.

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  2. I am in agreement with you. The type of guilt induced gratitude that you talk about was very much in vogue in my childhood. Then we were really grateful for everything in our life. Our list of gratitude was long and the message was driven home quiet frequently. All good things were imported and nothing much was available in India. Though, I cannot discount the fact that I have lot to be grateful about my middle class childhood. I take it in a positive way to reflect on the journey we Indians have made in the past thirty years since our economy opened up. It was a quantum jump in living standards and attitudes. I am sure this must be the case with many countries of Asia and Africa which were similarly placed.

    When we got elevated from that subsistence level living, we started looking around for a more meaningful life. Then we started appreciating the finer things in life. This is where the guilt free gratitude begins and also the confidence that one can achieve anything. It is not surprising that most of India’s remarkable achievements came in recent times from winning the first Olympic medal to Mars probe, the things that we dreamt about. Nevertheless, as we evolve as a society we will move more towards the guilt free gratitude. That is just my opinion.

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    1. Gratitude is ties to nothing but feeling good and thankful about something that affects us. It should not be tied to the status of someone or something else.

      It's really about taking a minute to say thank you for small things that make our day. Most people have this idea that gratitude should be for those big important and exceptional things and that it has to come with strings attached and big justifications.

      No reasons to feel grateful about things should be uttered.

      I am not grateful of having a roof over my head simply because it makes me more privileged than someone who has no home. I am simply grateful for it and that is it.

      Actually if you go by the principle of the law of attraction, being grateful for things, even if you don't have them just now, can bring them into your life.
      Being grateful for a job promotion before it happens can bring it because you put yourself in the mindset of being open to it.

      I have quite a few anecdotes of having manifested things I was grateful about before I had them into my life : opportunities, money, even exam topics. As a teen it was notorious for me to only study one chapter I liked in a book, and believe in it so much and being so happy and full of gratitude I got that topic that I would manifest that exact question or topic in my "spoken exams" which were a format in which you step into a room, pick a chapter or question in a lucky draw, have 10 minutes to prepare your response and then spoke face to face with the teacher, alone, with no one else.

      I was 17-18 at the time, and I had quite a few classmates hating me for it, because I was notorious for not preparing for everything or read a whole book. And yet, I always managed to get exactly what I wanted, in a luckydraw no less.

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  3. Nice post. I wrote something along similar lines last week in my blog post on Anxiety and beyond.

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    1. Just read your post :-)

      It's exactly that, it's not about making the negative go away, it's making sure there is enough positive to balance it out.
      I'm a pretty anxious person myself, I think it was when I was a pre-teen and we were going on family therapy sessions (I think it was my parent's first attempt at trying to fix their marriage) and the therapist suggested I wrote things down when I felt anxious.
      This was the beginning of a lifetime of journal and diary keeping. As a teen I loved my diary, because as an introvert, I also didn't like throwing teenage fits, or confiding to all my friend about how "unfair" things were, so the diary seemed like the perfect solution and it would not tell me I've been overreacting or was being a drama queen, so it was perfect.
      As I navigated my 20's I realised it was a great way to manage all my anxiety, on top of meditating.

      I recently learned another trick to manage negative feelings from a friend of mine who teaches meditation and Yoga :

      Don't associate with your feelings, instead acknowledge they are around, but they aren't you. So instead of saying "I am angry" or "I am affraid" say "Anger is there" "Fear is there".
      And yes, it seems easier to handle those feeling when they aren't really eating my identity.

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