“You use gratitude like cocaine,” she said. Her observation was as calm as if she were saying “The sky is blue today.”
My mentor often shared wisdom I eagerly embraced. But the suggestion that I had been sticking the numbing needle of thanksgiving in my veins silenced me.
Gratitude has long been my great go to. I had just shared what was going well in my life. My busy law firm. My healthy children. My meaningful coaching career.
But my mentor could see beyond my rosy report. While my kids were okay, my sister was intermittently suicidal. My husband’s latest test results were encouraging, but the prognosis remained terminal. Reciting what might have been a good gratitude journal entry did not change the truth that I was sad, overwhelmed, and exhausted to the bone.
I get my emphasis on appreciation from my mom. Mom grew up in the Great Depression. She had 8 years of schooling when she married my alcoholic father and 8 children after. She never learned to drive. Years of climbing up into city buses with children in tow left her with so much appreciation for a simple car ride that she never once complained about my typical tardiness to take her somewhere.
A go-to method of mine for giving thanks has been comparison. Years of parochial school where I proudly put my pennies in the little church-shaped cardboard box during Lent taught me about the poor and hungry children in Guatemala. At least I wasn’t one of them.
When my first spouse screamed at me, I was grateful I wasn’t being hit like some of my clients were. When I lamented the slow pace at which I ran a 5k I was grateful I wasn’t bedridden with MS like my friend Jean. It could always be worse, right?
Yes…and. When I connect my gratitude to the misery of others, I’m feeding that part of my brain that is in incessant comparison already. Rather than seeing what is right before me, I search for the state of others to determine whether I’m willing to give thanks.
Going forward, I want to focus on noticing and appreciating what is. I want to be grateful for it all. For my excellent health and for that crown that fell out into my bowl of rice last week. For our bustling law business and the challenges of a pandemic. For the wisdom when it feels good and when it stings.
And as for the suffering of myself and others? Well, that is for my compassion. And I am willing to use that like cocaine until there is no longer a need to ease the pain.
Do you compare yourself to others before choosing to be grateful?
Do you keep a gratitude practice, such as a journal?
What can you appreciate that is in your life today?