It does happen, failure to feel grateful, I mean. There are times when our pain or anxiety is so strong, it’s less energy to surrender into the downward spiral than reach out and grab hold to stay afloat. Many of us have been in the darkness before, and the familiarity can be a comfort, despite all the pain it invokes. So, what happens when gratitude fails? What do we do when we’ve listed our gratitudes and we still feel terrible?
Write about what’s bothering. Acknowledge it. Give voice to the pain and anger, and let it have its say. To move through our challenges, to heal, it is crucial we process what we are feeling, and especially write about it. Acknowledging the truth of where we are is a good first step. The blank page for reflections in our journals can be used for these moments.
Say "This too shall pass.” Impermanence, in all its difficulties, is also a promise that nothing lasts. We will get through it. If it’s particularly challenging, we can ask for help, call a friend, turn to our joy list, and give ourselves a break. No perfection here. Just progress.
Come back to our senses. Literally. We don’t realize how much anxiety and tension we carry in our bodies. The energy gets trapped and our breath gets shallow. Our physical responses to fight or flight, anger and anxiety, sets the tone for us to ruminate and run circles in our mind. When we come back to the body, we allow our senses to take over and give ourselves the chance to physically shift our energy to a more gentle, peaceful state. Stay in it as long as you can. Give yourself this gift to let go of the mind and sink into your senses.
Gratitude revisited. We can do steps one through three as many times as needed, but always come back to gratitude. Start with the simplest thing that helps you FEEL gratitude, not something that we think we should be grateful for. THIS IS IMPERATIVE. If gratitude is an obligation, just a task, a list, a consolation prize, then gratitude won’t work. Authentic gratitude is when we feel it stirring in our hearts, our body. It may even evoke emotion if it’s truly real. To cultivate a lasting practice of authentic gratitude, we must know it in our body first.
Embodiment exercise: Find a place to sit and listen—preferably outside or by an open window. Tune in to the body and all its senses. Close the eyes or use a soft gaze. What do we see, hear, touch, feel, smell? Notice our breath. The moment our thoughts begin to wander, come back to the body, come back to what we see, feel, and hear. What do we notice? Has our breath slowed down, has our body relaxed? What’s still tight? The jaw perhaps, neck or shoulders. Relax them if they are tense. Repeat.
Perfection is such an illusion. Being human means giving space for the difficult emotions, giving permission for resistance to happiness and the good things, but we must always be curious. The resistance to finding gratitude is information that something is wrong. Follow that thread and see if we can find out why.