Gratitude When It Sucks


Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away and for the whole month of November, people have been running around talking about what they’re grateful for. We’ve seen it everywhere- Facebook, blog posts, reader boards at the grocery store and so on. Most of us have plenty of reasons to be grateful. If you’re reading this, high-speed Internet is one of them. You could also probably toss in a warm place to live, indoor plumbing and, quite possibly, a running vehicle. Given these and other blessings, gratitude may come easily for you this Thanksgiving.

But what if you don’t feel grateful?

What if your present life circumstances are such that you’re not exactly overflowing with gratitude? Maybe you’re hanging on by your fingernails and the bare bones of survival are taking everything you’ve got. Maybe you’re so engulfed by grief that the best you can do is get through the day. Maybe someone you love deeply is suffering and you’re helpless to do a damn thing about it. At these tender junctures, gratitude becomes a distant concept that somehow doesn’t apply anymore. And with November’s relentless emphasis on being thankful, you feel an added burden of guilt for your ungrateful heart.

Sometimes it sucks.

I don’t know what it’s like to be hooked up to a chemo drip. I haven’t experienced the terror of frantically searching for my family after a tsunami has wiped out the village. I’ve never slept on the streets. But I do know the weary desperation of staring down a checkbook and having to choose between paying the heating bill or buying groceries. I’ve endured the suffocating anguish of unfathomable loss. I’ve felt the crushing despair of watching big dreams disintegrate right before my eyes, sometimes at the hand of my own stupid mistakes. Our pain takes many forms. I’ve been there and at points along the way, I’ve struggled with gratitude.

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, nor do I think that there is an inherent lesson in every difficulty. Life is full of bewildering ambiguity. And sometimes we’re anything but grateful. That is its own special kind of heartache. But I think that the world throws us tiny lifelines. They come as the simplest of comforts and pleasures: fresh sheets, your favorite smoothie, the clean crisp air of autumn, the happy dog– the one with the stubby tail and the Ernest Borgnine face–that you pass on the street. When we feel we have nothing else, we can look for these and seize whatever respite they provide. They won’t change anything but they can help us get through a hard day or a sad afternoon. Sometimes our salvation doesn’t come in the form of sweeping insight but in the minute details of the present moment.

If you are struggling this Thanksgiving, this post is for you. While I don’t have any elegant profundities here, I can offer this much: Screw gratitude. It’s OK to let go and to ever so gently be where you are, getting by as best as you can. You’re not spiritually deficient. You’re just hurting. And it won’t always be like this. Focus on the tiny lifelines. For now anyway, if you can’t find gratitude, you may at least be able to find little bits of grace.

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