Gratitude is serious medicine - and for real, it has saved my life in the darkest of times.
This week, in North America, we celebrate Thanksgiving. This means the pressure to “be grateful” is at an all-time high. However, instead of the usual B.S. about cheery, slightly manic gratitude, I’d like to propose that we reclaim gratitude as the fierce medicine we need - not to avoid or bypass the pain in our lives and the world, but as the thread of light we can hold onto as we navigate the darkness.
So much of our cultural narrative has sullied gratitude.
We need a reframe. We require a new way to look at and practice gratitude, whether you are tired of being told to be grateful or if you are someone who likes to avoid hard truths and suffering. We need gratitude, but not expectations of gratitude for gifts and all manner of things not asked for or desired. We don’t need the well-meaning lady who wags her finger, admonishing you to “Count your blessings,” or the toxic positivity of the good-vibes-only crowd who gloss over personal pain or collective suffering.
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The benefits of gratitude are well-researched.
It’s one of five practices that can replenish willpower. It is a powerful pathway to feeling resourced when your nervous system is in overdrive. It can dampen our natural inclination toward negativity bias and increases positive emotions. It is a practice that can provide the emotional and mental cushion we need to weather the storms of life.
Many moons ago, when my daughter was a wee thing, we had just moved to Italy, and I was becoming a coach. I was sick and in constant physical pain. I was anxious, and (now I know) I was experiencing an overwhelming activation of my nervous system. Daily yoga helped, but my understanding of my life and who I was had shattered. My life felt so dark at that time. I turned toward gratitude.
Daily, I would look for something - anything - that comforted me, that nourished me, that made me laugh… anything that brought me a spark of gratitude. I held it close, that tiny seed of gratitude. It was the tiniest light in the darkness of my life at that time - it gave me hope.
This is the real power of gratitude.
Gratitude is wonderful when we feel good - it amplifies good feelings and deep connections to others, to ourselves, and to the goodness of life. But gratitude truly shines as a practice when we look for the good amid adversity. Gratitude gives us the strength to turn toward the pain, the darkness, and the challenges with more grace.
I’ve never stopped practicing gratitude.
It’s served me well through chaos, grief, and upheaval, and it’s helped me be that much more present for what matters most. I write gratitude in the morning when I journal and before bed when I review my day.
But here’s a secret - I never fake my gratitude, or gloss over the hard things. When the events of the world are hard, or I’m grappling with personal challenges, I do not try and bypass them. Oh no. With my hand over my heart, I acknowledge what is challenging, what feels overwhelming or insurmountable. Even in the face of this, I am grateful for… I am thankful to… I appreciate… Sometimes, I can even find gratitude for the challenge or difficulty itself.
It’s good medicine to make it a practice.
Here’s the thing - when we practice something regularly, it takes root in us and in our lives. Now, more than ever, we need to be grounded and feel resourced to face life. Gratitude will do that for you. But you also deserve to receive more goodness, connection, and yes, happiness through the practice of gratitude.
Over time, I’ve learned that two elements of gratitude are essential: noticing what you are grateful for and why it’s important to you. The second part, the why, keeps the gratitude practice fresh and deeply nourishing.
I also practice expressing my thanks to people around me for qualities or actions that I appreciate. This is one of the daily practices I track - to look for, and acknowledge the people around me and why they or what they do matters to me.
You do not have to count your blessings blindly or express gratitude for things that don’t matter to you. You are not required to pretend you are grateful when life sucks. But I invite you to consider that gratitude is richer, deeper, and wider than platitudes. Gratitude can be that seed of hope in the most challenging of moments and the blossoming of awe and delight in the best of moments.
No matter if or how you are celebrating, I wish you the strength to be present for the full catastrophe as you reclaim the medicine in gratitude for yourself.
You are invited to Dream a New Dream
Something to look forward to - join me to Dream a New Dream. Enter a soft space of healing and energetic support to dream your vision for the new year into being. Begin as you wish to continue, sister - with intention, deliberate ease, and your authentic desires for how you wish to move through the world. I’d love to see you there.