Gratitude has been a buzz word for quite a while now. “Be grateful, show gratitude, make a gratitude list each night before bed.” In theory this sounds lovely. It seems like focusing on the wonderful people, things and experiences in your life should really make you aware of how rich and fulfilling your life is. Gratitude has been proven to improve physical and mental health, it opens doors to connections between people, enhances empathy and reduces aggression, improves quality of sleep and increases self esteem.
Well, sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s not enough.
I think most of the time we truly know how much we have. We really are so grateful for all of the blessings and opportunities in our lives. But we don’t always have that pink puffy cloud feeling. We aren’t walking around in a constant state of bliss just because we’re grateful for the fact that our children remembered to put their clothes in the bin, the husband emptied the dishwasher, we were able to pay your bills this month and we can plan a family vacation for this winter.
When I took an inventory of my blessings things didn’t add up. I truly have everything I need, everything I want. I practice mindfulness, I write the lists. Everything I have is carefully and deliberately curated to align with the way I wanted my life to look like. But I wasn’t feeling the benefits of this practice. Depression would set in, jealousy, comparison, unworthiness, resentment.
My internal dialog would sound like this, “Does that mean you’re really ungrateful? Are you faking it? Are you really that spoiled and nothing will ever satisfy you? What’s wrong with you!!??? Don’t you see how good your life is- WHY AREN’T YOU HAPPY!!??”
Well it turns out that most people need more than external things to make them feel truly happy, fulfilled and at peace. It’s not a new concept– happiness is an inside job. So what was I missing?
Purpose. Contribution. Accomplishment.
Humans are hardwired to serve, to please, to help and to contribute. If we weren’t our society would crumble. Now, I was contributing to society, I had a job, I was working, I was raising children, I was recycling and voting. But it wasn’t until I inventoried those things did I start to begin to feel better.
I still believe being grateful is important and necessary as a daily reminder. So continuing with that practice is something I would definitely recommend to everyone. But how about adding a few bullet lines to that nightly list for your contributions? This could be as simple as helping your child with their homework, cooking a healthy meal or really taking time to have a quiet, undistracted conversation with your spouse. It would be a volunteer job or helping a neighbor. You could be involved in some sort of political rights activism or environmental protection group.
When we acknowledge our daily contributions, large or small, we are giving ourselves a purpose. Filling our own cup. Yes it may seem like a little pat on the back, but if we won’t do it, who will?