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The Difficulty of Gratitude

One of the most difficult things for me when I was early in recovery for chemical dependency was wrapping my brain around the idea of gratitude practice. Gratitude seemed to me to be a kind of toxic positivity along the lines of “it can’t be that bad,” or “look on the bright side.” To me, it was almost like a denial of my suffering; a denial of all the hardships I had been through. I took it as almost an affront. So when my therapist introduced the idea of a gratitude journal to me, I was skeptical. But I tried it, and now have really come to love it. Gratitude journals are essentially what they sound like; a journal or notebook one keeps with a list of the things they are grateful for. Some people save it for when they are in bed at the end of a day, so they can write about all the things they were grateful for that day. Some people prefer it to be an early morning activity as a positive way of orienting one's mind for the day to come. There’s no set number of things you need to list - choose three, ten or just go until you can’t think of anything more!

Though gratitude journaling is a tried and true method, finding ways to be grateful is not one size fits all. If gratitude journals are not your thing, and you find yourself not really too keen on the idea of gratitude (hey, it’s okay!), here are some alternative ways to cultivate a deeper sense of gratefulness this holiday season:

Laugh - Laughing is a great way to reduce stress, connect with community and create an overall sense of wellbeing. Even if things aren’t going well, I turn on my favorite comedy movie or stand-up comedy special and I feel more positive and optimistic about life in general.

Write - Yes, I know, you’re not big on gratitude lists - but sometimes this is because people have a hard time thinking about things in the abstract. If you’re a chatty Cathy like me, you may find it easier to write about your feelings and your gratitudes in narrative form. As a writer myself, any chance for me to blather on with paper (or a laptop) is an opportunity seized!

Do your passion - What is your greatest passion in life? (Besides winning the lottery and laying on a tropical beach). For me, this is writing or reading. Where do you feel most at home, most joyful? This could be painting, running, hiking, yoga, gardening, cooking, kayaking and so on. Whenever I’m writing - even as I write this piece - I feel a certain happiness and peace, and as I watch the rain on the Evergreen trees from my desk with my coffee I feel grateful, even just for this moment.

Talk - Now this could be to a trusted friend or family member, or to a therapist or just at a twelve step group or support group of some kind. It’s such a shame that so many of us are rarely truly seen in our daily lives. We are rarely given the privilege of space (some more than others, of course) and the privilege of taking up space when we are in our everyday public lives. We often spend 40 hours a week at work, facilitating the goals and aims of someone else's company or organization and then we come home and if we have families, we’re often working at that until we go to bed. Allow yourself to take up space, to talk.

Dance - Moving our bodies is powerful! In the same vein as talking, dancing has us taking up literal, physical space with our videos and similar to what was mentioned above, so many of us only get to utilize our bodies for survival and so rarely just for joy.

Gratitude journals are not for everyone and that’s okay, and on first glance, the idea of gratitude can definitely look like toxic positivity from a distance! But try any one of these ways to manifest some gratitude, and I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by the joy that the practice of gratitude brings. Really, when you get down to it, anything that brings joy is likely to also bring opportunities for gratitude and reflections on gratitude.

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