Everywhere you look these days there's something about the positive effects of gratitude. Gratitude makes you happier, improves your relationships, helps you sleep, make more money and have better sex (OK, I made that one up but just for fun googled it and saw that indeed there are many articles on this topic).
Along with exercise and meditation, gratitude is the new darling of the positive psychology world. Likewise, similar to exercise and meditation, we know being grateful is something we should do and feel bad about ourselves when we don't.
Many years ago when I was pregnant with my first child (he's now 16) I experienced an extreme version of this. For the first three months of my pregnancy I thew up at least 5 times a day. Everything smelled horrible to me - even my new husband. We were living in a caravan (a.k.a. trailer) in a small village in Israel with no car, no air-conditioning and no trees for shade. I sometimes would lay in a cold bathtub and cry. I was experiencing severe prenatal depression and for the first time in my life was having regular suicidal thoughts. It's hard to even come close to conveying with words how miserable I was almost every second of the day.
I also felt shame that I was not more grateful. Grateful to be newly married. Grateful for my home. Grateful for the life that was growing inside of me. It didn't help that I was living in a spiritual community whose guiding principle was Mitzvah Gedolah L'hiot B'simcha Tamid (It's a great Mitzvah/commandment to always be happy).
Our Rabbi got wind of my bad state and came to visit. I told him how horrible I felt that I was not more grateful and happy. In response, he shared with me a great piece of wisdom that I continue to use until today.
You don't have to be happy about throwing up, or happy about your husband smelling or even happy about things you think you should be happy about. But can you let yourself be happy about the things that you still enjoy?
Basically, can you let youself have the happiness that is still there?
There wasn't much that I felt happy about but there was one thing. Every day at around 3:00pm a patch of shade would start to appear in front of my friend and neighbor's caravan. I would drag myself outside and lay down in that shade. Every once in a while the wind would blow. It was my deepest pleasure. I started saying to myself, I like a cool breeze on a hot day ...I like a cool breeze on a hot day... and I would let myself feel that tiny bit of gratitude.
You see, gratitude is a feeling. Yes, there are things we can do to cultivate gratitude but you can't fake it. Either you feel it or you don't. But sometimes we also squash down the actual gratitude that we do feel because we are too busy feeling bad about the gratitude that we don't feel.
When we let ourselves feel the small bits of gratitude we flex that muscle. Yesterday, I was in the shower using the Trader Joe's brand three-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body-wash when I felt a wave of gratitude for how much I like this product and that I didn't need to buy three different bottles but just one (I hate clutter). Then I remembered how much I love the sample sized cups of coffee they have at Trader Joe's (like, an oddly disproportionate amount), that led me to being grateful for how friendly the employees are! I then felt grateful for the fact that we had the money to go grocery shopping which led to me feeling great gratitude toward my husband who has been working extremely hard lately working more than full time while I grow my coaching business.
But, you see, I didn't start out by feeling gratitude toward my husband. I started by feeling grateful for the three-in-one body-wash. Letting myself fully feel the graditude for the body-wash ultimately led to my gratitude for my husband. It's counterintuitive but we often have to let ourselves feel grateful for the small things that are genuinely giving us pleasure before we can move onto the bigger things.
This week I invite you to notice what you genuinely feel (in your body, not your mind) grateful for. Can you let yourself fully have that feeling? When you stay with that feeling what wants to happen? Does it want to grow? Does it make you feel gratitude toward other things?
Please, let me know how it goes! I can't wait to hear from you!