Gratitude is the foundation of living a life that is wholehearted and joyful. I believe this even in the midst of feeling less than grateful. I understand the truth of it because I can’t think of a time when I’ve felt joyful and not also felt grateful. No gratitude, no joy.
Google the word “gratitude” and you will find a million and one practices for and benefits of gratitude. What you won’t find is one single article, meme, or infographic on its one sneaky problem: that it can be used as a weapon. Hard to believe? Tell me if any of these fill-in-the-blank phrases have ever sounded familiar:
- “Who do I think I am asking for [rest/ help/ more than what I have now] when people all around me get so much less. I should be more grateful.”
- “Anyone with your [baggage/ history/ mistakes] should be thankful for having a [partner/ spouse/ job/ home] at all. Who are you to ask for more?”
These are messages that we tell ourselves and sometimes they are messages that others thrust upon us. Regardless of where those messages originate, here is what I want you to know: that’s not gratitude speaking. That is shame in gratitude’s clothing. The result of this shame is that we begin to mistrust our own cues for needing. We feel ungrateful for needing self care, nurturing, healthy boundaries, respect, dignity, or meaningful relationships with ourselves and others. We fall into the trap of believing because someone has it worse or because we have failed to prove ourselves worthy, we don’t have a right to have our needs met.
Left unchecked, this shame becomes a dangerous part of our narrative. We run ourselves into the ground, becoming fatigued and burned out. We are more vulnerable to toxic and abusive relationships. Our physical, spiritual, and emotional health suffers because our sense of worthiness has been stolen from us.
Here’s a litmus test for discovering shame hiding in gratitude’s clothing. Does it contain the word “should?” The problem with should is that implies we are doing or thinking something wrong. “Should” is a shame word that seeks to steal our worthiness. If there is one truth that I would have us make a mantra is that there are no prerequisites to worthiness. And if that is true, then there are no hoops to jump before we can ask for, and receive, what we need. It is only then that true joy and gratitude–the kind that comes without ‘shoulds’–can be a part of our new narrative.