A journalist friend of mine who works as an editor for a small paper in Sweden wrote something in her column a while ago and it really struck a cord with me. I have had a beef with the word gratitude for a while now and it appears that I am not the only one.
She wrote about not having sent any Christmas cards to anyone that year, as usual, and then having squeezed the kiddies together for a quick snap shot in front of the Christmas tree. The kiddies obliged with smiles. She added the obligatory Christmas filters and mass sent it out as a text. One of her friends replied 'such wealth', and then went on to comment on how much the Christmas tree had improved things in my friend's living room that had remained unfurnished for the best part of six months.
It was not that my friend got peeved about what could have been seen as a snarky comment about the state of her living room, but what she found was that the word 'wealth' did not sit so well with her. When she later that day carried full shopping bags back from the supermarket, she wondered when she passed a woman begging for money out there in the cold if she ought not ask the woman (with the help of some sort of translation app since the women was not Swedish) if she needed anything from the shops. Instead she gave the woman all the small change she had in her pockets and a bag of oranges. The woman smiled despite the cold and my friend felt like the smile she returned was more like some sort of strained grimace.
My friend found herself struggling with the words wealth and gratitude, and how she cannot help feeling that the words are now somehow contaminated. I feel the same way. There is a 'you should feel' attached to the word gratitude, for me anyway, and in the face of someone having to beg for money it becomes even harder to swallow. The word wealth is so relative it is hard to pin down what it actually means. Are you Trump wealthy or wealthy in the sense that you have a lot of good friends and a decent house to live in?
As a person who has suffered from depression in the past I have gone looking for the antidote to it online more than once. You know, in desperation I 'Dr. Googled' a lot. The one thing that keeps popping up is that one should try to consistently feel grateful for the good things in life. I can see how that helps but what I find hard to swallow is that movement that seems to have been lead by Oprah (perhaps) and all that talk about keeping a gratitude journal. It just makes me want to start a revolution.
Gratitude is great as long as it is not an endless parade of Facebook shares, fridge magnets and posters.
Gratitude is not something you force yourself to feel because it is spiritual or more saintly, or because that is what you should do, or because it will improve your karma.
Gratitude is great as long as you do not use it to prevent feeling guilty for living in a country where poverty is relatively low, and for having a lifestyle that in some parts of the world would be considered incredibly wealthy.
Gratitude is great as long as you do not use it to cover up that fact that you have so much you regularly throw out food because it is been spoiled in your fridge because no one ate it.
Gratitude is great as long as you do not use it cover up that you are bloody unhappy with your lot despite all that wealth.
I am sure you get what I am saying here.
To me gratitude has become the new thinking positive. As much as I can with certainty say that I feel gratitude for having my daughter, for being wealthy enough to be able to afford to live a life that a lot of people in this world cannot, for my health and for a lot of other things in life, I absolutely draw the line at feeling grateful for having people in my life that make my life difficult.
For example, I have tried to feel grateful for the lessons being with a certain ex taught me but I have come to the conclusion that it is actually more healthy for me to be angry with the way he behaved because it means I am not trying to pretend I do not feel that way. Not allowing yourself to feel angry with people who have treated you badly is tantamount to self-abuse. Suppressing feelings never ends well. There are times when it is simply not good enough to feel gratitude but you have to sit down and do the hard work of actually going to through the emotions attached to the situation or thinking about the person until they are no longer as strong or cause that much suffering.
I was happy to see that the honorable Pema Chodron (Buddhist nun) wrote an article dispelling myth that you meditate to get rid of what we in the Western world like to refer to as negative feelings. She says that nothing could be further from the truth. She says that you meditate to get to know yourself and to accept yourself, and all that you are. Not accepting that you have negative feelings she says is an act of violence against yourself.
I do not know what really caused us to tell ourselves we have think positive and feel grateful for everything we have. We live a life of abundance compared to a lot of people in this world but we are incredibly poor at distributing wealth evenly even though there is more than enough of it in the world. I find it hard to feel grateful for what I have while I feel frustrated at knowing that the best I can do to redistribute wealth is to hand the occasional $20 to a homeless person (and there are so many of them in Sydney now) because the world as a whole seems completely inept at doing it.
I find it hard to feel grateful when most of the people I know do not feel good, and when depression and anxiety is on the rise in the Western world because we are so missing the mark. It is clear to me that being wealthy does not make you happy in the same way that being poor does not necessarily make you unhappy. It is far more complicated than that. Wealth is in the end not a simple concept and nor is gratitude. It is very clear to me that the 'conventional' definition of wealth has very little to do with how grateful you are. In the end I think that the best you can do with gratitude is to pay attention to it when it naturally arises, and to do that you have to pay attention to what feelings and emotions you have even the not so pleasant ones. When you do notice that gratitude is there, take a moment to saviour it because that is going to get you a lot further than a gratitude journal will in the end.