I feel like I’m doing everything right - walking three to five miles a day with Jasper the dog, eating well, meditating, and journaling - but I’m still having a hard time finding how to get my wheels back on track.
I turned to the internet for more ideas to add to my feel-better-soon activity list and found many research studies extolling the virtues of a gratitude practice. Every lifestyle guru worth her salt has a video or blog post about using gratitude to generate more happiness, including Danielle LaPorte, Gabby Bernstein, Oprah... The list goes on and on.
They say a regular practice of gratitude may improve physical and mental health, increase self-esteem, boost positive emotions like happiness, optimism, and enthusiasm, and can even reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Sounds great! Sign me up!
So, after a long night of waking at 12.56, 2:33, 4:14, and 5:21, I stood in the shower under a stream of hot, hot water and said to myself, “I’m grateful for this shower.” Then, I started thinking of the times when I didn’t have hot water, like camping, and the Grand Canyon adventure in the RV with a shower that didn't work, and years ago, when the hot water heater in our home broke on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and we couldn’t get anyone to come until Tuesday and then they needed to order a new heater and then something was wrong when they came to install it so it was 10 whole days before we had hot water again.
Standing in the shower, I realized that when I practice gratitude, I always add in a “because” ...
• I’m grateful for hot water because I've lived without it for 10 days.
• I’m grateful for clean drinking water because there are people all over the world – even in this country – who can’t drink safe water straight from the tap.
• I’m grateful for my life because it’s everything I ever wished for and I should be grateful and satisfied with what I have.
I’ve been doing gratitude all wrong.
It's like adding in the “because” cancels out the gratitude.
It’s the same way the word “but” works:
• I love you but we’re not right for each other.
• We’re proud of you but you need to be working harder to get that physics grade up.
• I know you’re upset, sweetie, but I can’t pick you up right now.
No one remembers what was said before the “but.”
In the same way, your soul cancels out the gratitude, only listening to what follows the “because.” Instead of a wonderful mood booster, your gratitude practice becomes a shaming exercise.
“I am grateful” becomes “I should be grateful” and you end up "should-ing" all over yourself.
Instead of a nonstop flight to happiness, you’ve climbed aboard a slow train to disappointment, with frequent stops at resentment, unhappiness, and despair along the way.
The next time you sit down to reflect on the tiny, taken-for-granted, or extraordinary things in your life for which you are thankful, try leaving out the buts, the comparisons, the shoulds, and supposed tos.
Be in this moment. Be grateful, just because.