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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Is Gratitude Ruining Our Lives?



Gratitude is all. You have heard me say that sentence more times than either of us can count, because I believed it and I wanted you to believe it too. I wanted you to look at your life and say this is enough and for that I am grateful, so thank you Universe. Or thank you God. Or even thank you ME. I believed that being grateful was its own reward. That constantly stamping on the hunger for more (now, again) was the answer to contentment, to living joyously in the moment and avoiding the constant, gnawing need to be someone you weren't.

But what if I was wrong?

What if gratitude and contentment merely curtail ambition: personal, domestic, financial or otherwise? What if gratitude teaches you to accept the status quo and by it's very nature insists that anything else both smacks of greed and somehow goes against the natural order of either the universe or should you be a believer, Gods will? My dear, precious Housekeepers, what if gratitude is ruining our lives?

I have been keeping a gratitude journal for more than twelve years now. When the mood strikes me I write down all that I am grateful for: a pretty sunset, a day without the kind of unexpected bills that threaten to cripple me, a kind word, food that made me swoon, my little boy, a tidy room, a haircut I inflicted upon myself without disaster, this little house, BrocanteHome, Russell Brand (Ha ha!), friends, hugs, tears.
It is in fact probably the most telling of my journals, a barometer of mood and emotion I trust to tell exactly how it was.
But here's the thing: I have been grateful for the SAME THINGS for twelve years. I have been so busy been grateful that my little world hasn't come to a grinding halt or left me buried under the detrius of my inate ability to self-destruct that I have forgotten that in order for life to progress, in order to reach our full potential as human beings we have to ask for more. Of ourselves. Of the universe. Of life in general.

As I get older I am beginning to accept that the universe moves in peculiar ways. Ways I will never understand but ways that ultimately present me with a situation I will embrace or perhaps just come to terms with. I am grateful that I am able to move through each day without the kind of regret or bitterness I see casting shadows over other peoples lives, grateful that I can exist in moments that weren't in the plan and yet still feel like dancing, and more than that, that regardless of everything, I am still capable of  accepting of what went yesterday, being grateful for today and desperately, desperately hopeful for tomorrow.

I don't think I am saying that life hasn't served me well. All the tiny joys add up to a deep-rooted sense of contentment I am proud of. I think what I am saying is that life is short and it is all very well ambling through a life that presents no challenges, accepting what is offered and hiding under a cosy quilt when the pain gets too much but carry on this way and in another twelve years I will be fifty and still feeling grateful that I didn't burn the casserole. That the chamelia has bloomed again, and there is enough money in the gas meter to see me through another night.
That scrape through the silky surface of contentment and what you will find is a woman who bought into the platitudes she sold herself. The my time will come's. The I don't deserve it's and the god forsaken, maybe tomorrows.

I think what I am really saying is that gratitude isn't enough. That gratitude, dear darling gratitude, needs a plan. That it isn't enough to sit back and let life take it's course, and offer smidgens of thanks because something inside you suspects you aren't worthy of anything more: that it is in fact this very attitude, this belief that gratitude is enough to manifest all your hearts desires, this arrogance, that is holding you back. And that even more than that: at every corner we are wimping out. Too afraid to truly question whether we are happy to tolerate the staus quo because the thought of what could be if we dared to dream scares the living daylight's out of us! That what we actually have to do is embrace Marianne Williamson's Everyday Grace:

My deepest fear is not that I am inadequate
My deepest fear is that I am powerful beyond all measure
It is my light, not my dark that frightens me
I ask myself, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually who am I not to be? I am a child of God. My playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around me.
I am meant to shine as children do...

Because there is so much to be learned from those few lines. You see children don't accept the status quo. Yes they are content when their immediate needs are met, but otherwise they are constantly questioning things, always trying to learn more, demanding what they want and never resting until they get it. Children shine because they haven't learned to numb their desires with gratitude for what already exists. Children shine because their intrinsic need for more drives them until life see's fit to stamp all over ambition, and in the end only the strongest survive with their will intact to fight for who they know they can be.

I won't be giving up my Gratitude Journal. It is a tool for self-realisation I have long appreciated. But I want to SHINE. I want to strive for shininess and instead of being grateful for all the little platitudes I sprinkle before me on my journey towards it, I want to teach myself to offer gratitude for that which I have achieved. Those moments when I abandon playing small, and finally start striving for something more...

Look lively Sweetheart: I am on the road to brilliance and fabulosity. Who knows where it could take me! 

16 comments:

Carlie said...

YES YES YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I come from a family that is very big on contentment in this stifling sort of way and although I respect their desire to be modest and happy with what they have...they are stunted by it. I have often been jabbed verbally by them for my continual "self improvement" plans and often one the tongue clicking comments is something about it being a shame I can't accept myself the way I am and just appreciate the daily miracles. What they don't understand is that I am driven to self improve not because I loathe myself but because I have changed and accomplished and aspired and seen stuff I wanted to and the world has opened to me...and frankly its quite addictive. Its a little sad to see them pull the shrink wrap tighter around their own little world and wax capping all their own little growth tips. Gratitude is irreplaceable but so is the yearning desire to DO, SEE, GO, and just be more. This is what God created us for. Lovely quote. I'm stealing it.

Sara said...

Brilliant! So much in this post that challenges the basic premise behind what I've been striving to do in my life, too. In a good way, of course. It's a truly wise person who can meet new realizations or information with an attitude that says, "I was so sure I was going about this the right way, but maybe not. Let me think about this some more." Great, great great post! Thank you!

The Happy Homemaker said...

Well,what an eye-opener!...The kind of post that keeps me addicted to BrocanteHome!Thank you Allison.Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to want more.I think there has been a tendency for women to prove that they are self-sufficient overachievers who are still as sweet as pie and never,EVER appear needy.This is a great post :)

Dinah Soar said...

Being grateful for the good things in your life does not preclude wishing for more, broadening and expanding yourself.

To merely resign yourself to your lot and do nothing to improve it is not gratitude--it is resignation.

Gratitude says I accept this lot as it is at the moment--sees the glass half full and offers thanks, which is the act of being gracious, the expression of gratitude itself --and is totally different than resignation.

Resignation says "I resign"-- I quit, give up, I settle here in this spot.

Acceptance says 'I accept'-- I receive this circumstance. But it--the circumstance nor your acceptance of it-- does not dictate what you do with that which you have received.

You may take your lemons and make lemonade. Or you may take your lemons and toss them far away, obtain some new ones. You may do the same with your roses..you might trade them in for some strawberries.

Tossing them away is not an act of ingratitude, but a demonstration of the freedom we each have to take our lot and redesign it according to our desires, abilities and wishes.

Should you give me a gift, it would be rude of me to not acknowledge it. But being gracious, acknowledging that gift does not condemn me to liking the gift, using the gift or even keeping the gift.

Many use gratitude as an excuse to stagnant, as a fait accompli, like their life is a done deal with 'no way out'.

But along with the grace our benefactor distributes, He also graces us with many other things--freedom to be as He designed us to be --or not; the ability to think/reason, the ability to give and receive love...the list could go on and on.

Gratitude is a state of being, the act of demonstrating grace--which is part and parcel of gracious living, a grace filled life. As we are thankful, the gratitude we feel extends, it flows outwardly and we are able to extend to others that same grace which we ourselves have received--from God, from the universe.

Anonymous said...

The most amazing post you have *ever* written (and we've known each other a *long* time)...daring to say what we've all thought - big stuff indeed!

xxxooo, Gail from California

Vee said...

Oh much to ponder here! Much truth and wisdom in it...

Ali said...

I don't see gratitude as "settling". I see it as a necessary check point along Life's way.

Modern society has a tendency to have us forgetting to appreciate those people who are precious to us, and the things we work hard for. Yes, I'm grateful for what I have. You better believe it sister. A good deal of it came at price. Most worthwhile things do.

But it it doesn't make me complacent or lazy. I have goals and dreams and I'm grateful for each small step along the path that helps me achieve them.

Good thought provoking post!

Ali

Candice Holsinger said...

Ooh, Alison, you started a debate here, didn't you? : )

I am also a girl who has the innate ability to self-destruct. When I found my way to BrocanteHome 3 years ago, I was looking for something. Literally, I was ingesting articles and pictures for weeks trying to find some source of inspiration to be a content wife and mother, without sacrificing my passion for life, my drive to accomplish Great Deeds. What I found at your virtual kitchen table was comfort in routine, but routine dressed up in the prettiest way.

The lifestyle that you present on BrocanteHome was not easily attainable for me (still building on it!!) because I had not given myself to permission to enjoy my todo list. It was just a todo list. My house was not a home. I was trying to break out of the misconception that raising a child and keeping a home was not glamourous, but I had no one to show me how. My routine was efficient, but made me feel completely unfullfilled at the end of the day.

Your Gratitude Journal never made it into my routine, but I learned to incorporate the things I was grateful for into my life. If a pattern on a fabric made me giddy, I gave myself permission to be giddy and find a place for it in my everyday stimulus. That was your influence; )

Now, my house is still an utter mess (I've moved 3 times since I first read your blog) but it's improving- my children are happy (I have had another child, and I homeschool the first), my husband is (generally) happy with his home; but most of ALL, I am grateful for the opportunity to dress up my routine and enjoy a cup of tea with a friend, not apologizing for something I feel gleams of my inadequacies.

I have friends who experience far Greater accomplishments than my routine ones, and attend more Glamourous events than cheerleading practice and grocery shopping... but the real deal is that one day, I will not be able to live this life with my children in a comfortable routine. Children grow up and it will be harder and harder to keep them near me for holiday baking, let alone hanging laundry. At that time, I know I will change my lifestyle and use the wisdom of my age to stamp Great Deeds all over the place. What else can you do with an empty nest and lifetime of lessons?

What I am trying to say, is that you and I and the rest of your housekeepers have been doing GREAT things all along, and we have all been here watching *you* SHINE: ) When you manage to not burn the casserole, you aren't settling for an edible meal- you are encouraging your entire audience to make their own casseroles and proving it can be done in a beautiful way- that's Inspiring. That's Great. You are personally responsible for at least a dozen successful kitchen attempts in my house!

I suspect you are a bit restless- well, it is January, aren't we all? : ) When you spread your wings and do something ambitious, I am sure we will all enjoy that adventure with you, but the queston I'm stuck with is...what on earth more are you looking for? ; )

laney said...

...gratititude is never stiffling...gratitude opens the heart to more and more oportunities and more and more people...certainly God intended for us to grown and use the talents He gave to us... to share and interact with others...the proof of that is the gift of tomorrow...HE gives us a new one ...every single day...

vmichelle said...

I love the honesty of this post. This kind of post is exactly why I've been reading you for years! I had a moment a few months ago where my head snapped up and my view expanded and I could see years I wasted, stuck in excuses, feeling as if I had been treading water and never even moving towards shore. But then, I realized I couldn't be where I'm at right now, ready to leap forward, if not for those years of sitting still. So maybe there are times when we lay fallow or hibernate? I'm not sure... I don't know if it's possible to push ourselves at high rates of speed without sometimes falling back into stillness. I think contentment and ambition are both ingredients of a good life - it's hard for me to balance them at times, too.

The Hausfrau said...

Excellent post! There's a fine line, isn't there? We need to be grateful, certainly, but without just accepting the status quo--especially if there are things in our lives that could use changing, or even some adjusting. It's okay to want to grow. I have occasionally felt bad about not being satisfied living in certain places--but I know that if I (and my family) had decided just to stick with the status quo, we would not be seeing and doing interesting things on the other side of the world today. But again, as with so many things in life, there is a balance that must be achieved...

Sasha said...

Wow. You always manage to just about hit that nail on the head EVERY TIME Alison! My sister sent me that quote a while ago, and I thought it was just about the most awe inspiring thing I had ever read.

I agree that for some people (me included at times) being grateful for what we've got is something we hide behind in order to resist change or risking the unknown. I also, sadly, have experience from certain members of my own family that it is also a kosh that can be used to beat people back down to their 'safe' level with....as though striving for something different or 'better' than they have/did is some sort of insult to the life THEY chose, and makes you 'too big for your boots'. This is, of course, not so at all - it is simply that we are all individuals, and life cannot be prescriptive and suit all sorts!

It is absolutely good to be grateful, every day, for what we have - but also for the differences and skills and hopes we all have that mean we can keep evolving, keep improving on what we have and do with our lives - whatever form that may take for each of us. There is no shame in this, and I feel we should all be proud of each other for wanting different things (so long as they themselves are not used to slap others in the face with, THAT is where any true shame would lie)

We all have one life, and it is alarmingly short. Most of us will barely scratch the surface of what life and the world has to offer. Isn't it all about moving forward, not standing still? I try to turn my gratitude for the every day things into how it will inspire me to have something new to be grateful for tomorrow!

Of course, this is easier said than done when bogged down in the every day mundane..... thank you Alison for the wake up call!

Danielle said...

Have a look at Esther Hicks (Abraham) on youtube. I'm reading one of her (their) books at the moment and it's fascinating. They say it's in our nature to create, to expand, to ask for more. Gratitude can and should go hand in hand with expansion. Have a look, I think you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

I understand and have been haunted by that exact quote you wrote by Ms. Williamson. Also haunted by John Lennon's view "Life happens when you are making other plans."

I believe in being grateful for the blessings and small mercies of life because of the law of return, the law of cause and effect, basically if you only focus on what you dislike in life you get more of it. Life is better served to those that are more positive than negative. I even have a semi-precious stone with the word "Gratitude" carved on it. Yet, the one thing I have always refused to do as much as I love Simple Abundence was create a gratitude journal-and not because I'm not thankful or grateful.

When life gets tough or I can't sleep I count my blessings so I won't get bitter-and when something is blissful and acuatally going as I planned to a tee-I count my blessings and say Thank you-and mean it.

Yet-I think you have hit the nail on the head here-I feel as if gratitude isn't being mis-used in order to keep us in our places because too many people count on us to do things for them so they can have the time to do as they please. It's the same old know your place in the scheme of things to be happy bait and switch-with a new name tag attached to it-and thats sad. Gratitude in earnest is such a lovely thing.

Anonymous said...

I understand and have been haunted by that exact quote you wrote by Ms. Williamson. Also haunted by John Lennon's view "Life happens when you are making other plans."

I believe in being grateful for the blessings and small mercies of life because of the law of return, the law of cause and effect, basically if you only focus on what you dislike in life you get more of it. Life is better served to those that are more positive than negative. I even have a semi-precious stone with the word "Gratitude" carved on it. Yet, the one thing I have always refused to do as much as I love Simple Abundence was create a gratitude journal-and not because I'm not thankful or grateful.

When life gets tough or I can't sleep I count my blessings so I won't get bitter-and when something is blissful and acuatally going as I planned to a tee-I count my blessings and say Thank you-and mean it.

Yet-I think you have hit the nail on the head here-I feel as if gratitude isn't being mis-used in order to keep us in our places because too many people count on us to do things for them so they can have the time to do as they please. It's the same old know your place in the scheme of things to be happy bait and switch-with a new name tag attached to it-and thats sad. Gratitude in earnest is such a lovely thing.

Counting Your Blessings said...

As a counter of blessings, I couldn't agree more. Though the Bible tells us to be content whatever state we are in, it also says that in everything we do we should do it to the best of our ability. I rarely appoint something so important in my life that I'm willing to do my utmost best at it. Parenting. Whew - that one I work really hard at! But there are so many other things in life that I'd like to become, like to experience, like to work on. If we don't have hopes and dreams, it's awful hard to be thankful when they transpire. In fact, they might just pass us by without us even glancing at their shadow.

Blessings... Polly (p.s. have you see this site: http://thankfulfor.com/)

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