Everyone knows that gratitude is good.  Especially when you are an incredibly privileged person, and I'm not talking like filthy rich or...

Gratitude and Guilt

Everyone knows that gratitude is good.  Especially when you are an incredibly privileged person, and I'm not talking like filthy rich or social royalty.  I mean when you are white, when you live in the US, when you have food in your fridge, a roof over your head, nobody shoots at you on a daily basis, bombs aren't going off in your neighborhood, your daughters can go to school, your sons aren't forced into becoming child soldiers.  You know, basics. 

I've been looking up articles about this very thing.  The real sciencey ones are about how narcissism and entitlement prevent people from feeling or expressing gratitude.  The millennials talk about the feeling of indebtedness that comes with accepting favors, gifts, and "blessings" from others.  None of that really applies to me.  Those aren't my gratitude struggles.  When I was younger, I struggled with contentment and that still raises its ugly head from time to time.  Gratitude should be the healer of discontentment though, right?

The mom blogs focus on how when we stop to feel grateful that our kids are healthy, we start feeling guilty for yelling at them.  That one is a little closer to home.  Yes, I purposely combat discontentment with self-inflicted guilt.  So what your skylight leaks and there's a hole in the garage ceiling where your bestie fell through the attic?  You have a house that's warm and safe, you ungrateful twit!  See, that's hardly productive.  This naturally progresses into marring my attempts at real gratitude. Contentment and gratitude aren't the same thing.  Think of contentment as a decision and gratitude as an emotion.  I combat thoughts of not being good enough, not doing enough, not working hard enough or efficiently enough to accomplish everything that I want.  That is my discontentment and it isn't material or monetary. It's relentless ambition being opposed by physiological hurdles beyond my actual control. That's something I gotta see my therapist about, and I do! 

What am I even getting at here.  Okay, so the purpose of finding real gratitude is not to talk yourself out of being ambitious, but to honor and appreciate and even acknowledge the things that are right and good in your life and your world.  Unfortunately, I conflate the two on a regular basis.  I find myself using guilt to convince myself to be content with what I have.  Then I turn around and try to be grateful for what I have and then start to feel guilty that I have those things at all.    Why doesn't my child have cancer?  Why can I afford this organic milk when so many others can't afford a pound of rice? Good grief, my mind is mad house prison! 

I have to change my mind about what gratitude is and what value that state of mind holds for me and my family.  Gratitude born of guilt will never build true empathy for suffering.  Gratitude forced by comparison will never breed compassion.  It paralyzes the kind and hardens the hearts of the privileged.  True thankfulness is fleeting, momentary, unannounced, and beautiful.  All the crap about your gratitude journal and meditating on your blessings is complete bullshit (unless of course it works for you and then I'm super happy for you and keep doing it).  You aren't "blessed" because you're thankful for your blessings and you won't get less blessed because you become entitled.  The world isn't fair and equal, it doesn't work that way.  Also, if you go around telling people how blessed you are, they will hate your face.  What you and I are is lucky and that's about it. 

The practice of gratitude is being present.  How many times a day can you say that you are present, physically, emotionally, and mentally?  When are you not running through the list of everything else you have to do or clicking through your mental notes of what you're supposed to be thankful for when you are really mad or anxious or discontent?  That's why those moments are fleeting.  I've found gratitude to be a spiritual experience for me and I hope so much that some of you feel it too.  Some are quiet moments and some are crazy ones, where something just hits me straight on in the chest with an overwhelming soul crushing realization.  It sits on me and yells, "This is my life, these are my people, I'm here by some cosmic force, and look at them, they are beautiful!"  Sometimes I get chills, sometimes I get all choked up and teary eyed, and sometimes I freeze in hopes of letting the moment linger.  When I find those moments fewer and further between, I know that something is closed.  I'm letting my stress, my guilt, my discontentment, my lack of presence or something get lodged into all the nooks and crannies so there's no room for gob smack moments of debilitating gratitude.  One happened the other day at the neighborhood pool.  The way the sun was going down and the color of my baby girl's strawberry blond hair and Freddie's swimsuit on backwards and my husband's stupid waterproof earphones so he can ignore whining children on land or by sea, the families there of all different races and ethnicities.  My heart almost kabloomed, which is dangerous while swimming.  I can't live like that all the time.  My vascular system wouldn't be able to handle the stress.  You can't guilt that, because it's real and messy and temporary.  You can't bottle it up and put it in a journal because you don't even know exactly what triggered it or what the heck you were even grateful for in that moment. 

Please look for those moments.  I can do nothing to affect my gratitude besides being fully present as often as possible. Work on your discontentment, work on your guilt by giving back and engaging in your community, donate to organizations that do great things, volunteer, vote well, read and increase your knowledge.  Those things require work.  Gratitude requires letting go.