Friday, 30 August 2013

A slightly different viewpoint on gratitude

Photo courtesy of Julie Jordan Scott via Creative Commons
How many times have I heard something along the lines of:

'The ONE thing that really makes a difference in your life ...'
'Everyone who lives a joyous and successful life practices this thing on a daily basis ...'
'In order to manifest abundance (powerful phrase that yeah), you must show ...'

And the answer is .. Gratitude! First prize if you guessed the answer. These people are all making out that gratitude is a massively important key to living a successful life. I don't know about you, but to me, the word 'gratitude', to an extent, implies effort mixed with a small dose of denial of how I really feel. Before you start making judgements, be honest with yourself.

Have you ever 'tried' to be grateful for something but known deep down that you really weren't? I've been in workshops where we've done 'gratitude exercises' - naming one or two things that we were 'grateful for'. It was easy enough to think of something but, on my part at least, it was all a bit fake. It's easy to say 'I'm grateful for my health' or 'I'm grateful for my family' - but not really feel that sense of being grateful. I knew I didn't really feel grateful for the things I said I did, and these exercises felt like a bit of an effort to 'try' and be grateful, which doesn't really work.

Fast forward my life by about three years, and I have still heard the word 'gratitude' mentioned regularly. But I don't seemed to have mastered this 'art' of gratitude. I haven't 'felt' grateful for the things I have, don't get me wrong, it's good that there are some good things in my life - but often I've felt a sense of lack and frustration at what I DON'T have - sound familiar? Comparison games have made me feel like other people have more than me. If you feel the same way, DON'T PANIC! And read on.

The 'gratitude train' as I call it, seems a bit of a mind game to me. And the phrase 'attitude of gratitude' comes straight from the cheese maker. For whatever reason, I just couldn't seem to feel truly grateful for my life and the things in my life. And I felt a bit guilty about it, if only because it's been drummed into my head on numerous occasions how important gratitude is. In fact, just recently, I'd seen another video going on about gratitude being 'the secret' to everything (okay it wasn't quite put like that, but it seemed that way). I thought to myself 'I must learn to be grateful'. I started a blog post on gratitude soon after, in the hope that I would be able to find for myself the secret of being grateful and tell the world (slight exaggeration there), but I could not finish it. Something inside me was not feeling right about this whole gratitude concept.

Photo taken in Oxford
Then I received some valuable insights thanks to a wise person - which is that true gratitude comes from being present and appreciating life as it is at this moment. Also, that it's not an effort to try and feel grateful when you don't - but more a case of embracing the various things that crop up. The first one, in particular, was a bit of an 'a-ha' moment.

The gratitude culture has, to me at least, been a bit overly focused on being grateful for things rather than life itself. And the phrase 'attitude of gratitude' is really a 'doing' phrase rather than a 'being' phrase. If you have to constantly tell people that you are grateful, then perhaps you're really not. As you may have realised by now if you've read my blog for long, I'm really not into some of the super positive happy smiling in love with life stuff. I prefer the real and raw stuff. And I feel that if you've been through some stuff or had a deep sense of lack throughout your life, that being grateful is not an easy thing. In fact, sometimes I feel that 'being grateful' is something that is all too easy to be quantified - 'My gratitude score has gone from a 5 to a 7'.

If you are in the flow of life, there is no need to try and be more grateful than you already are. In fact, I'm not even totally convinced that 'gratitude' is the keyword to an important life. At the risk of being controversial, I do believe that some of the so called gratitude in the positive thinking field is a bit fake.

I think, for me, the important thing now is just to appreciate life itself, to embrace whatever 'this moment' presents and to dance with the rhythm of life. 'Trying' to be grateful just hasn't worked for me. Gratitude for other things and people may then flow naturally out of that.

I hope this makes sense - I'm still learning :)


  1. Brilliant blog post Andy. You hit the nail on the head there. When we stop trying to be something other than we are appreciation naturally takes place in the present moment. Gratitude, much like 'The Secret' the 'Law of Attraction' and 'Create your reality' is all the doing mode not the being mode. Well done for receiving your 'aha' moment. I bet it feels a relief to not struggle against something that clearly does not work for you.

    1. Thanks Kelly :) Being rather than doing is key for me right now, I think. Gotta do what works eh :)

  2. Good post. This is a very valuable lesson. You can't SHOULD/OUGHT/MUST feel anything. Imagine telling a child that she should love Aunt Agnes, but from the child's perspective, she smelled, had bad breath and black hairs growing out of a large wart on the end of her nose.

    Your last sentence "Gratitude for other things and people may then flow naturally out of that." says it all. Especially the word 'may', not will.

    It's all about letting life unfold, accepting that you are not in control, and experiencing the only moment that is real - the present moment.

    I loved the comment '...straight from the cheesemaker'.

    1. Hi Mike, haha glad you like the comment :) I totally echo your sentiments - it takes a while sometimes to accept we are not in control but it's the only way to let life unfold naturally.


  3. Hi, Andy, Interesting post.

    I'm someone who grew up with major lack in my life and I must admit that since getting on 'the gratitude train' my life has gotten so much better. When I grew up with lack, all I ever focused on was lack (which in turn brought me more lack). But when I started to realise that I had a lot more positive things in my life than I was allowing myself to see, I knew that I'd been ungrateful. For instance, just the fact that I'm alive today, which could have been not the case.

    I personally never fake gratitude, because I don't have to. I suppose I'm lucky enough to hardly ever focus on lack anymore and this has been due to focusing on the things I do have. I've come such a long way from a poverty stricken childhood, that the 'attitude for gratitude' really has given me a way to see that when you come from nothing. When you have absolutely nothing, to having what I have...I can't not be grateful. I have no lack.

    But this is just me. This is just who I am, and so it works for me. I wouldn't pretend to be grateful for something I'm not, I always look for something that I am grateful for, for the exact reason you say. You shouldn't try and make something true when it isn't. These things are all just tools and if they work for you, great. If they don't then you have to find another way.

    :) xx

    1. Hi Rachel, I am totally with you on being grateful to be alive today. It's true that you need to find whatever works for you. What I struggle with is when people seem to make out that something should work for everyone. Thanks for your comment :)


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