What’s Missing from the Gratitude Talk?

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Written by Ali Mariani.

I’m guilty. I’ve jumped on the gratitude bandwagon. I have talked about gratitude, preached about gratitude, and made countless gratitude lists. I’ve read all The New York Times articles about the power of gratitude, the science behind it, and its correlation with happiness. I have 100% drank the Kool Aid.

The truth is, we currently live in a society where gratitude is trendy. It’s good to be grateful. It’s a good thing. We are taught: When I express gratitude, I, in some way, become happier. It’s a foolproof formula, right?

Maybe. Or maybe, there’s something missing from the gratitude talk.

Maybe gratitude isn’t always our first natural reaction.

Maybe we have focused too much on cultivating gratitude and have forgotten to mention the hardships that often precede it.

Gratitude isn’t born out of nothing. It is often preceded by chaos, by pain, and by darkness. So why aren’t we talking about those parts, too?

It’s no coincidence that people who have had near-death experiences leave with a new outlook on life. It’s not an accident that people, who have survived cancer, drug addiction, and trauma, possess a new outlook on life.

Gratitude is the lovechild of pain.

The times in my life I have truly felt grateful are the times that I have truly felt pain. It’s this polarity that is at the core of life. There is a polarity to everything: sadness and joy, pain and pleasure, and darkness and light. Without one, you don’t have the other.

We need to talk about both- pain and gratitude- not just the happy side of things. Because when we leave out the darker polarity, we allow people to believe it doesn’t exist. And when we allow people to believe it doesn’t exist, we allow them to believe that their darkness is abnormal in some way.

I totally get the power of optimism. It is a lovely, powerful concept. But it isn’t everything.

Let’s talk about pain, too. Let’s paint a full picture, not just a snapshot of the product. Life can be difficult. It can be painful. It can be hurtful. It can be profoundly difficult for those of us experiencing mental health challenges.

Here’s what I want to say to those of us struggling: your darkness isn’t abnormal. Your darkness is the very thing that makes you human. Without it, you wouldn’t have your light.

It’s possible to let gratitude become a wall. I, for one, have done it. I have begun to feel emotional pain, but then put a wall up, saying “But I am so grateful for my life. I have nothing to complain about.”

Here’s the kicker: gratitude doesn’t mean that you don’t feel your feelings. Feel them, 100%. Allow them to come up. Do what you do with them. Resist them, push them away, or bury them down. The feelings will come up in some form or another– we all know this. Once you have felt them, then, let gratitude run its course.

Gratitude isn’t the beginning of the story; it’s often the last chapter. So, if you are in the beginning or the middle of your story, worry not, there is a grateful ending ahead.

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