The Unexpected Difficulty of Gratitude: Why Appreciating Life is Harder Than You Think

Georgia Pettit
February 20, 2024
bench sitting facing a lake

Gratitude has become a worn-out buzzword in wellness culture. It is often billed as an easily accessible virtue capable of quickly providing a healing salve to any and all of life’s challenges. But as you may have experienced, no matter how many things we have to be grateful for, it can be difficult to access. 

Gratitude is often categorized as an easy, warm emotion. But for many of us, the direction to call on gratitude in every moment can feel placating or even condescending. We're told that it's easy to be grateful and that if we don't have easy access to gratitude, it makes us self-centered, difficult, and unappreciative of what we have. A major problem with this “rose-colored glasses“ approach is that we are often instructed to simply call upon an abundance of gratitude instead of being taught how to generate it. 

There are, of course, aspects of life that naturally elicit gratitude. When we encounter misfortune, poor health, heartbreak, or grief, we feel a rush of compassion alongside a tender appreciation that at this moment at least, we are not personally facing those challenges. But for everyday life, there remains a kind of tyranny of gratitude that can be harmful to the natural system of processing emotion. 

We have absorbed the cultural lesson that touching on our personal pain points is a selfish indulgence given how fortunate we are. This toxic approach to gratitude suggests that by acknowledging the mundane issues of our daily life, we are lacking in context or perspective.

Maintaining an appreciation for what you have is certainly an important practice, but when we subconsciously train ourselves to avoid or suppress difficult emotions in the name of needing to be grateful, we miss out on important opportunities to grow and evolve. When we arrive at gratitude from a place of authentic appreciation, we truly immerse ourselves in its benefits. Gratitude has the capacity to restore inner equilibrium and provide a felt sense of balance. Through gratitude, we can widen our perspective and escape the trap of thinking with an “all or nothing,” mindset. With the right approach, gratitude can provide us with a slew of both profound and practical benefits. 

Evolving Our Relationship to Gratitude

So, how can we access gratitude in a more authentic and meaningful way? Before stepping into the methods and recommendations, let’s discuss some basic attitudes that we can put in place to make it easier for us to call on gratitude when it is needed. Firstly, let’s allow ourselves to acknowledge that gratitude, no matter how obvious it may feel in a given situation, can still be difficult to access. From there, we can work from a place of empathy instead of judgment. 

Next, let’s change up the default response to the question of what we should be grateful for. As an example, reflections on gratitude often focus being thankful for family, your employment, or your children. In reality, gratitude is often more accessible in things that are slightly out of focus from the central structures of our lives. We may instead feel grateful for a meaningful piece of music, the ease of a certain friendship, or a simple ritual we have managed to maintain in our daily lives. 

Lastly, if you are truly having a difficult time coming up with things you are thankful for, simply drop the list altogether and try resting in the feeling of gratitude without any specific items around it.


Methods for Touching Gratitude

A typical gratitude practice usually asks us to sit down with a pen and paper of some kind and generate a list of things we are grateful for. While this practice may work for some, it can sometimes have the effect of making our lives feel inadequate as we rationalize what we think we should feel grateful for. Below are methods that bypass mental processing in favor of generating a felt experience of appreciation.

Accessing the Heart

Higher Self Yoga founder Nanette V Hucknall literally wrote the book on heart practices: Her book,  How to Live from the Heart, discusses the various heart energies that are possible when we shift our life’s lens from the mind, down to our heart center. Having a deep appreciation for our world is one such power of the heart. This power is accessible by simply placing a deep, intentional focus on the emotional center of our chest and touching on the inherent sense of security, empathy, and trust that is available to us in the beauty of the present moment. By focusing solely on the heart, we can create a moment where our perspective expands in such a way that we can’t help but feel grateful for the simple beauty of our existence.

The Power of Words

As a twist on the concept of a gratitude journal, consider fostering a commitment to words that personally have deep meaning to you. For instance, words such as “birdsong,” “hearth,” and “candlelight,” naturally have a spark of inspiration. Or you can choose phrases that are more unique to you, for instance, “my niece’s smile,” or “Papa’s banjo playing,” which may inherently light up your internal world with appreciation. Hucknall writes, “Even if the words are mundane, the heart's energy behind them will fill them with meaning.” Keep a list of phrases not so much in a mental space, but in a feelings space, and call on them when you need a boost in a dark moment.


The Higher Self and Gratitude

The Higher Self can show us what we already have to be grateful for. If we are truly at a loss for why gratitude is difficult for us, connect with the Higher Self and ask the question - how can I experience more gratitude in my world? The simple act of making a connection will likely leave you with a sense of appreciation for the relationship you have built with your Higher Self.

Georgia Pettit
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