Gratitude seems a straightforward concept. We all know what it is to be thankful for something or someone and most have experienced the benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude. It makes us feel good. It can lighten a mood or create more room in a tight chest. Gratitude has healing benefits and can help bring the monsters under the bed down to a more manageable size. It can also be a sport car’s fast ride down the dead-end road of guilt and shame during times when we feel (or are told) we should be grateful, and our emotions are far away from thankful. This human dilemma can be particularly painful during the holidays.
It may not be hard to understand what gratitude is, but I find cultivating gratitude much more complex and complicated. For me, it’s a process that takes time and practice to have some handy when I need it. First, I needed to address some assumptions I had about gratitude. I assumed that I needed to feel happy for my gratitude to be genuine. I thought gratitude was meant to dispel darkness. It’s taken me a long time to realize that they can coexist in the same space. During my long seasons of learning, I felt like a selfish failure. Hallmark movies and holiday commercials do us a disservice also painting over everything with a gloss of good cheer and guaranteed happy endings that can be accessed as easily as making a purchase.
Gratitude should never be forced. It can be practiced, but not forced. During a difficult time, two friends invited me to join them in sending each other 3 things we were thankful for each morning. No rules or judgements applied, just text 3 things. They ranged anywhere from deep to silly to downright outrageous. Grace, toilet paper, silly socks! First cup of coffee in the morning, pets, and ice cream. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be real. I have found that gratitude that rings true fits right alongside, often right in the middle of what’s hard and painful.
I am grateful for person centered practices and the work I do with HSA, it has provided me experiences personally and professionally that have brought me face to face with the realities of my disability in a way nothing else has. I have navigated a fall and significant injury that led the way to major spinal surgery, a surgery which is improving the way I navigate in the world. Person centered practices helped me discover who I am alongside the limitations of my disability. Until then, I had invested years of time and energy trying to make it invisible and what wasn’t invisible, I was determined to conquer. Now with gratitude, I can accept that I cannot do everything I’d like to do because I know who I am. I have cerebral palsy, and, I no longer have anything to prove or conquer. My experiences living life with a disability are a gift. Without them I could not do what I do, offering others hope, courage and encouragement towards lives they want to live.
So sometimes we need to dig under the hard and painful stuff to find the treasure of gratitude and therein lies the practice of which I am grateful for everyday.