Gratitude NOT Changing Your Attitude? Surprising Mistakes You Make and What to Do Instead

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Gratitude is getting a lot of attention these days, and rightfully so.  Gratitude is often the gateway that ushers us through to a more positive emotional and mental shift when we are desperate to feel different than we do.


The studies on gratitude are increasing rapidly.  Psychologists and neuroscientists are finding that practicing gratitude and having an “Attitude of Gratitude” has a vast array of benefits ranging from increased physical health to more wisdom, patience, and humility.


They have found that employing gratitude helps us create better relationships, higher self-esteem, more generosity, a more positive outlook on life, and even heal more quickly and thoroughly from trauma.


It is truly astonishing what they are discovering in their studies on gratitude.  I can't wait to reflect some more on what I'm studying.  What an amazing list of benefits an attitude of gratitude can give to us!


I am a huge advocate for Gratitude.


Except for when I'm not.


Yeah, I know that's a bit confusing, so let me explain.


Let's think about band-aids for a moment.  Band-aids are designed to protect and aid us when we've sustained an injury that breaks the skin so that the damage can heal without more dirt and germs invading during the healing process.  It also provides a cushion against further injury should we bump it against something else.  All good stuff there.


So obviously, I'm a big fan of band-aids when I've sustained a cut, however...


…. I don't usually just slap one on without cleaning the wound first.


If I don't take that cleaning step seriously, no band-aid in the world is going to magically protect my injury and help it heal without infection.


I know, it's usually a lot more fun to put the band-aid on (especially when we were young and it had a great design on it) than it is to clean the cut thoroughly....but it doesn't change the fact that it's a necessary step.


Band-aids are good.  Clean wounds are better.


And that brings me back to gratitude.  Gratitude is vital for us to have a deep sense of happiness and fulfillment in life.


Like band-aids, gratitude is a really good thing.


Here's where it gets a bit tricky, though.  I've noticed that we humans have the capacity to gently and subtly shame each other and ourselves using all sorts of really good things.


This leaves us really confused and stuck when we try to use said “good thing,” and it winds up falling flat, or we just can't seem to really dig in and enjoy it the way we've been told we're supposed to.


Let me ask you, do you keep a Gratitude Journal?  Do you love keeping it?  Does it make all the difference in the world to you to document your blessings?  Do you write gratitude letters and send them to others?  Do you openly advocate these gratitude exercises to anyone who you see is struggling?


If you answered “Yes” to all of these questions, then bear with me for a moment.  Remember, I am a huge advocate for being grateful and conscious of all the blessings that I enjoy.


But I'm going to call a foul on the gratitude play because it isn't always the best and only answer when you find yourself out-of-sorts or downright stuck in your life.


Maybe you're someone who answered “No” to the questions listed above.  Yes, I know that's a distinct possibility.  It's why I'm writing this post.  A LOT of people aren't able to do the whole gratitude thing.  And to go so far as trying to write down blessings when you can hardly see them is, well, laughable.


WHAT!” you can hear the Masses say, “You aren't feeling grateful?? EVERYONE knows that you should be grateful!  It's the antidote to all of life's woes.”


Queue more guilt and shame.


Just what you needed, more guilt and shame, right?


Let's nip this in the bud and figure out what's stopping you from being grateful, or at least from feeling grateful.  Now, for those of you who are already reaping the benefits of employing gratitude effectively, this will perhaps shed some light for you on how the other side is struggling.


You see, there's a vital answer we are over-looking when it comes to helping ourselves and others in regards to gratitude and employing it's amazingly powerful healing and perspective-shifting capabilities.


It's all about TIMING.


When we are really stuck in a stressful situation, all the different emotions we're experiencing really want our attention.  They have messages that they're desperately trying to deliver.


Those emotions are actually, really, trying to HELP.


The problem is, and as far as I can tell, it has always been that we haven't been trained thoroughly enough in how to LISTEN to ourselves and how we're feeling.


Instead, we've been taught to "take our mind off it," "find a distraction," "buckle down," etc.  With these types of instructions, it's no wonder we aren't great at carrying on a collaborative conversation with ourselves and getting down to what's what in our lives.


In fact, I'm sure you've heard at least once in your life that if you talk to yourself, then it's a sign of being crazy.


Nothing could be further from the truth!!


We need to learn to be a friend to ourselves.  Actively, purposefully, listening to what we're thinking, feeling, and believing is a major key to our happiness and success in literally all aspects of our life.


Without developing this ability, we won't have the information necessary to address Life's situations and find the solutions we think are the best fit at the time.


Instead, we will spend a lot of time repeating behaviors and patterns, feeling stuck, frustrated, and stressed....


...Until we finally give ourselves the attention we deserve.... and listen to what we're trying to say to our Self.


When we automatically move to gratitude, instead of listening to our thoughts, feelings, and coping mechanisms, it's like we're telling everything going on inside of us that it is not okay, it's bad, and now we're going to shut it up, shame it and guilt it away using a Big Stick... Gratitude.


I hope you're relating to what I'm mapping out here.  Gratitude is good, but not when it's used to invalidate where a person is at the moment or as a distraction from solving the issue.


Here's another aspect of what I'm talking about.  This not only applies to us jumping to gratitude before listening to ourselves; it also is extremely applicable when we are talking with others.


Have you ever found yourself venting to a friend, co-worker, relative, or even a stranger on the bus and their reply to your angst was to suggest that you be more grateful?


How did you feel in that moment:  Seen?  Accepted?  Supported?  Loved?


…. or did you feel more:  Shut Down?  Burdensome?  Embarrassed?  Broken?  Bad?


I've lost count on the stories I've heard involving this dynamic and the confused, hurt feelings that resulted in the exchange.  The relationship has sustained a hit, and sometimes it's subtle, but not always.  This is one of the ways that relationships decline, and we aren't necessarily aware of it because, well, it's so VERY common in our society today.


Common might be normal, but that doesn't mean it's healthy.


We all need to be more careful not to use gratitude as a Big Stick to move someone out of where they are.  Often when we're in tough places emotionally and mentally, the last thing we need is to hear (and feel) is an extra helping of:


“You aren't doing this right.  You are not really in that difficult a place. Your only problem is really that you aren't feeling enough gratitude.”


I realize that we've learned to do this “jump to gratitude” by Society as a whole.  For many, our parents and teachers at school certainly used it against us whenever we had a complaint or issue that they wanted to go away quickly.  Infuse a little guilt by implying we weren't grateful, and now the waters are sufficiently muddied …


What a sinister move to gain the moral high ground and add to the high emotional load we were already carrying....


...we learned very well at a young age how to get shut down, shamed, and dismissed...


Many of us took the queue from our authority figure, and did what we were taught, turned a deaf ear to our feelings, dismissed, shamed, and shut ourselves down.


And if this is what we thought we needed to do, then it must be what others need to do, too.  We learned to use these same techniques on our siblings, our friends, our spouses...


...and eventually probably our own children....because that's more than likely why our parents did it to us...they learned it from their parents....


It's a cycle that's been going on for a long time.


It's no wonder so many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to being called out for not being grateful enough...the guilt trip was begun a long time ago!!


My hope is that we can all be kinder to ourselves and each other.  Listen to where we are.


Really listen.


Once you feel you have given yourself the chance to really hear what's going on inside you, then move to gratitude to help balance the scale.


In one study, researchers found that employing gratitude was actually not helping in addiction recovery.  They realized that employing gratitude had the power to blur the issues that needed to be addressed to help the addict heal.


Again, there's that TIMING.


As you acknowledge the turmoil inside and learn to really communicate with it, you'll feel more peace...


. because it will be acknowledging the WHOLE picture... not just the pretty part.


It's one of the best ways to learn to love and accept yourself, your life, and the others with whom you come in contact.


In fact, the more you practice listening to yourself and finding the correct timing to employ gratitude, the more sensitive you'll become, and increase your ability to effectively listen to others and help them move through, honoring their best timing, as well.


After all, we all want to feel like we are heard, accepted, and supported when we say...


This is me. I am bruised today.


 Tell me about it...Literally!

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