Today is a grump day. I’m tired, the coffee hasn’t woken me up but has given me the beginnings of a headache. The house is cold, the sky is grey, everything is kinda blah. It’s one of those days. Then I check out Pinterest and I see quotes encouraging me to be grateful for my life, for my health, for my family, for a new day, for the challenges that make me stronger and for the lessons I have learned. Usually I nod sagely and agree because it makes sense, right? These things are true; hard times grow us, mistakes and disappointments teach us lessons, difficult people encourage us to stretch in compassion and boundary setting. Usually I’m viewing such quotes and articles from my “higher self” and I simply nod and remember to be grateful for my life experiences and scroll onto the next pin. Today, not so much. Today I’m definitely rooted in my “meh, whatevs” lower self and it was this lower self who frowned at the latest quote and asked “Why? What’s so great about gratitude?”. It made me pause and then ask the question, what is so great about gratitude? Isn’t this whole gratitude concept a bit of a platitude? The Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus defines a platitude as “a remark that has been used too often to be interesting.” Okay, I’m taking liberties with the language a little here because it’s a concept rather than a remark but the point stands: gratitude is a platitude.
Hear me out. Isn’t it ever so slightly insulting to imply that we aren’t grateful to be alive and if we aren’t that there’s something wrong with that? For most people being happy to be alive is a given but for those who aren’t there’s usually a good reason. There are people who are in terrible physical pain who would prefer not to be alive and suffer any more. There are people in psychological torment for whom life has so little meaning except misery that death might be a relief. Being told they should be grateful for being alive invalidates the pain in their existence. Anyway, if everything’s great then it’s obvious that we are going to be grateful to be alive. Don’t need reminding thanks. Everything’s peachy, have a great day yourself.
How about family? I frequently see memes and quotes celebrating the joy of family, the precious gift that parents/children/grandchildren bring. What about those folk who don’t have a happy family life? Should they be grateful for their abusive parents, their toxic relatives, their children who have turned their back on the family and are no longer in contact? Not much joy in that.
Got to admit though, I probably didn’t need to be taught that humans can be cruel
As for challenges growing us and making us stronger, I agree. Struggle is character building, educational, creates compassion, and all that other super duper positive stuff. Got to admit though, I probably didn’t need to be taught that humans can be cruel when I was bullied for years in secondary school. I was already aware of the news, I read books, I watched TV. Kinda didn’t need to experience it myself or the years of self-hate and shame that came with it. Probably didn’t need my parents’ divorce to show me that everything is temporary and people can fall out of love, or the years of family arguments and bitterness it caused. Didn’t really need my back operation and the lack of mobility that forced me to quit full time hours at work because my back couldn’t handle it or the years of financial struggle and worry that followed to be reminded that good health is a precious thing. I learned and I grew but couldn’t there have been an easier, kinder way to learn? Should I really be grateful that I sometimes still experience agonising sciatica and can’t do some activities as a result? Really?
gratitude can be appropriate in retrospect
Now before you roll your eyes and shout “Pity Party! I’m outta here!”, don’t worry this is not a victimised rant. These things happened, they’re part of my life, it was what it was and it is what it is (another platitude for ya). I did learn from these experiences so yes, difficulties in life can be productive and gratitude can be appropriate in retrospect. What I’m getting at here is the “yeah, yeah, of course” reaction we probably all experience when we are told to be grateful for the good things, the little things, the tough times, etc. It’s so commonly said and understood that it’s become a platitude that we accept without question. My grumpy lower self reminded me today that while being grateful is a good idea, ie it resets our priorities and helps us to appreciate what we already have rather than feel the sting of discontent at what we don’t have, it isn’t the panacea for all ills. It doesn’t wipe away the difficulties, it can invalidate real worries and it can create a feeling of inadequacy or self-blame if we can’t feel gratitude for our circumstances.
And if I’m the one accountable then I’m the one I’m accusing or thanking, aren’t I?
It’s also rather passive. The Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus offers synonyms for gratitude as “thankfulness, appreciation, indebtedness, recognition, acknowledgement”. If gratitude is being thankful for something you have received, surely that implies an indebtedness to another party that is influencing or creating our circumstances, be that God, the Universe or our own Higher Self? Doesn’t that take away our own power, our own agency? I prefer to believe that I alone am responsible for creating my circumstances. Even my slipped disc was a product of a sedentary life and resultant poor muscle tone, on top of my physical build which is prone to these problems (narrow back, long torso). If I had been more active I would probably have avoided a slipped disc. Our lives are created from a series of decisions; shouldn’t I be accountable for making those decisions and creating both the good and the bad circumstances? And if I’m the one accountable then I’m the one I should be accusing or thankful to, aren’t I?
Did the universe inspire me today? Should I be grateful to God or the Universe for my grumpy mood….?
Maybe for me that’s the answer. When I screw up, I can say, “Thanks a lot. Another week of not going to the gym. Another week feeling out of shape. Duh”. When I publish another post I can say, “Wow, I’m so grateful to myself for making the time to write and share my experiences with the world. It’s so awesome that I cared enough about myself to practise my craft because I always feel better after I’ve written. And it’s great to help others with what I’ve learned too!” Did the universe inspire me today? Should I be grateful to God or the Universe for my grumpy mood or should I acknowledge that I went to bed too late and I have created certain circumstances that are playing on my mind and so I’m not feeling at peace today? Maybe it’s possible to hold both views, that’s entirely your personal choice.
give yourself a break if you can’t find gratitude in your heart today
Yep, I’m totally playing Devil’s Advocate here. I believe in gratitude, I aim to be grateful and see the good in everything, I hold the belief that our struggles strengthen us and teach us and I am grateful for much in my life. I am finding peace in my circumstances and aim to go on building on that peace, heading towards fulfilment and joy. I just wanted to remind us all to question these personal growth/self-help clichés and platitudes from time to time. Gratitude is not a given; it’s easy to preach when life is a peach, but life ain’t peachy all the time and for everyone. So give yourself a break if you can’t find gratitude in your heart today. It’s okay to be angry and resentful at times. Anger can actually be productive but that’s another post for another day.
Keep plugging away, my friends. Every day is a fresh start, life is full of possibilities and the only limit is you! Okay, okay, I’ll take my platitudes and go. See you tomorrow.
Ta ta for now!
Background image by kareni on Pixabay.com