If you have been reading here for a while, you have probably noticed that I have some semi-heretical ideas about gratitude. (I’m guessing it was 77 Things That Don’t Completely Suck that tipped you off.) The difficulty with gratitude is that everyone knows it is good for you, and so it’s super-duper easy to slip from “I’m grateful” to “I should be grateful,” which amounts to thinly disguised self-flagellation. This is not what we are into around here.
Let’s start with some basics:
It is true that we can all change a lot of pieces of our experience by changing our approach to the them.
It is also true that not everything is okay. There is suffering in the world that is wrong: people starving or dying of preventable diseases, living in grinding poverty or suffering abusive industrial practices. We don’t have to be grateful for that or even okay with that. The sadness and anger these things stir up in us are the heralds of our sense of justice.
And it’s true that even when suffering is not the result of human injustice, pain is legitimate. Everyone experiences it, and sometimes, we are all stuck in it. Pain itself is not our stuff, but stuckness is, and wanting other people to hurry up and get unstuck already also is.
We are the sovereign bosses of what we feel grateful for and wherever we are on that is okay. It’s okay to feel grateful for little things — delicious coffee! — as well as big things. It’s okay not to feel grateful for big things.
All of that said, I have found that noticing when things go well is a profound practice for overcoming the stickiness of negative beliefs. For most of us, even on a terrible day, plenty of things go right. The ones that are easiest to notice are the surprising ones: this morning, when I went to grind more coffee, I found that I already had ground beans ready! Sweet. Thank you. But many routine things also go right. My favorite winter hat is so soft and warm, and I appreciated it walking to the mailbox. Gratitude. It turns out that I saved the tag from my new favorite candle so I can order more. Excellent. My electric tea kettle gave me hot water at the touch of a button. Thank you. When I am stuck in the Nothing Is Going Right doldrums, these things help me to notice that what I am doing is listening to Nothing Ever Goes Right tribble, rather than reflecting on something that is uncontroversially true.
If you are practicing curiosity about a particular negative belief, you can also use the same trick to help. I am investigating the ideas of You Are Not Dependable Tribble! Let’s look for cases where I am dependable. Tribbles love the words always and never to describe patterns, so if you can hang on to your curiosity and sense of humor for long enough to find even one counterexample, you will be able to get more and more specific about what is going on. (When your sense of humor gives out, take a break. Rest is an important part of working on stuff.)
In this spirit, here are some things that have gone well for me this week. I’d love to hear yours in comments!
When we had surprise ice, there was still ice melt left from last year.
I got the most perfect pajama pants of all time. With skulls on them. I know.
I spent a whole afternoon knitting by the fire with a friend.
My first-ever handknit holidays presents were successes.