When I read Bernadette Haddon’s post about personal gratitude and political change, I decided to join the 52 week thankfulness quest. I love the idea of being and bringing more of what we love and want in our world. So this is week 1 for me. But I hit a snag …
This journal page is my meditation on a quote that I saw last week on my niece’s bookshelf. It framed a photo of a very precious pet that had been lost suddenly and traumatically. Her sister had given it to her.
You might be wondering what that quote has to do with thankfulness … or, specifically, discovering I had a problem with trying to express thankfulness.
As I prepared to write my first post on this subject, I noticed that thankfulness can bring up fear of losing who or what we’re grateful about.
Does that seem strange to consider? What could be more pleasant than sharing something that we’re thankful for?
Yet, as I sat down to write my first blog post about one thing I’m thankful for, I felt uneasy.
I don’t think I had too much of a problem with the thankfulness itself. I often write a few lines of gratitude in a private journal or silently notice moments through my day. The resistence seemed to be about expressing thanks publicly – such as here in this blog.
I don’t think I had too much of a problem with the thankfulness itself. The resistence seemed to be about expressing thanks publicly – such as here in this blog.
With a bit of reflection, I realised there was a part of me that carried some fearful beliefs about more public thankfulness. I’m thankful to have noticed these worries and written them out. It’s given me an opportunity to transform those fears into a vision of what I do value.
Can you relate to any of these?
1) “If I thank some people, but not everyone, there will be hurt feelings”.
When I transform this belief into what it is I do want – I’d say it’s about wanting to be inclusive, sensitive and also to nurture my precious support networks.
2) “If I express what I’m deeply thankful for, it will reveal something personal about those close to me”.
If I transform that into a positive: I guess I’m valuing respect and dignity – and I want to nurture the trust of friends and family. It brings me a sense of closeness and connection when they privately share something personal with me from their heart.
3) “If I describe what I’m thankful for, I might “jinx” it in some way”.
I think this is a very human superstition. I’ve heard Brene Brown describe it as “foreboding joy” – that moment where we can feel overwhelmingly happy, and then a thought pops up: “be careful, don’t get too happy, this won’t last”. In other cultures and mythology, this fear might be described as ‘making the gods jealous’.
In psychotherapy, this might be attributed to early relationships with our parents or primary caregivers – times when we sensed that a parent was jealous or threatened by seeing us happy and it resulted in some kind of punishment or criticism, which meant we were cut off from love and care for a time.
To transform that worry into a positive: I guess I value emotional safety, and it feels vulnerable to notice how fragile life can be … and to acknowlege that my own happiness is interdependent on other precious people around me.
it feels vulnerable to notice how fragile life can be … and to acknowlege that my own happiness is interdependent on other precious people around me.
Why it’s worth being thankful … and how
I share these three realisations as an invitation. Do you notice any reservations about celebrating what you’re enjoying? What helps you to go ahead and be openly thankful anyway?
Why do I think it’s worth moving past these core beliefs and publicly sharing at least one thing I’m thankful about every week?
I have found it helpful to learn how to notice what I am enjoying and then connect it to a universal quality of life. For example, when my child reaches out for a hug that I want to give, what needs is that meeting in me? It could be needs such as nurture, closeness, connection, contribution to life … or many others.
I have found it helpful to learn how to notice what I am enjoying and then connect it to a universal quality of life.
Why do I find it freeing to link feeling thankful with needs that are being met? I think it helps me to feel less desperately dependent to the particular person or thing that is bringing me happiness in this moment. Instead of believing I have to “cling” or “detach” from what I love for fear of losing it, there’s another possibility. It’s more like deep and expanding celebration of life within and beyond me.
I can broaden that energy to include the quality of life that I’m experiencing in this moment: for example closeness, appreciation of beauty, nurture, fun, safety, to matter, care etc.
Instead of believing I have to “cling to” or “detach from” what I love for fear of losing it, there’s another possibility. It’s more like deep and expanding celebration of life within and beyond me.
Thankful for a friend’s persistence
For example, earlier today, I phoned someone I haven’t spoken to for many years. She had reached out to me several times via instant messaging. I had felt a bit wary of having a long phone call. Partly because so many years had passed. And also because I wasn’t sure I’d feel at ease. I’ve felt so raw lately around the challenges of parenting that I have very little space for hearing anything but complete understanding and support when I connect with another parent.
When my friend reached out to me again yesterday, she showed some understanding when I told her in general terms why I’d been finding it hard to make time to catch up. She said: “it’s so hard when we see our kids going through things and we don’t feel like we can help or even fully know what was happening”.
Just hearing those words, I felt myself shift from being wary to being tender and realising that we might both benefit from a chat. As soon as it felt truly mutual, and I felt more sure that I was likely to be received with understanding and not “fixed” or “diagnosed” or given advice … I was suddenly so willing to call. When I did, we chatted for over an hour.
I am so thankful for my friend for persisting in reaching out, so gently and respectfully.
Now my only regret is that I took so long to call, even though I understand my reasons. In her conversation with me, it seems there are many needs met for me: mutuality, connection, understanding, emotional safety, shared vulnerability, space, compassion, respect … I could go on.
Thankfulness that grows
So, I am so thankful for my friend for persisting in reaching out, so gently and respectfully.
I am thankful to my own feelings for leading me to wait until I was fully willing and open to the chat.
And I am thankful for being able to be thankful.
In summary, I’ve found it helps me to use a thankfulness technique I learned through nvc. First, I think of something I enjoyed. Then I guess what universal needs it met in me that all humans value to thrive in life. Eg: closeness, care, kindness, integrity, consideration, ease etc.
Or, to put it another way: I dare to notice what I’m loving, because it then becomes part of me and connects me to the qualities of life that I believe connect us all.
Which is why that quote meant so much to me when I saw it. We cannot lose what we love. We loved it, because it was already part of us. And when we connect to it, we make room to create and appreciate more of that quality in our life.
First, I think of something I enjoyed. Then I guess what universal needs it met in me that all humans value to thrive in life. Eg: closeness, care, kindness, integrity, consideration, ease etc.
Do you find this idea helpful in any way? Do you have a thankfulness technique that makes it easier for you to notice and express gratitude?