Gratitude and grief

As I continue on this journey of self-acceptance through yoga, a thing that keeps coming up is developing a gratitude practice. There’s lots of theories about why it works. From a spiritual perspective there’s a suggestion that what you are grateful for, you receive back into your life. From a mindfulness perspective its success lies in the fact that the more we express gratitude for the good things we notice in our lives, the more we notice the good things in our lives to be grateful for. From a purely moral perspective – showing gratitude for the abundance in our lives is just the right thing to do.

I think that I am generally quite a mindful person, and I try to actively express my gratitude towards people rather than just acknowledging it. I (generally) don’t think twice about writing a card, note or email to say thank you, or taking a few moments to verbally express my gratitude for someone’s time or input. I used to write ‘gratitudes’ on pretty pieces of paper and put them in a decorative jar – I still have the jar and the paper but the practice lapsed after I had a couple of bad break-ups with friends, and I struggled to be grateful for that experience.

Gratitude Jar
Gratitude Jar

So as the gratitude practice keeps coming up as being important for mindfulness and self-acceptance, I’ve been working to cultivate some new habits. One way I’ve been acknowledging gratitude is using Happier via the app on iOS (also available on Android). Happier is basically a social networking platform designed only to share the positive stuff you see in the world. It can be a sunset, a person, a thing that happened – whatever it is that made you happy that day, you share it and make other people smile (like a ‘like’ on Facebook or ‘fave’ on Twitter). You can connect with people you know or follow people who are featured or who are doing the same courses as you. (That’s another great feature – free courses on gratitude and meditation, and other courses you can subscribe to for a small fee).

Outside of the app, I’ve tried to just be more mindful of what’s going on around me. Whether that’s as simple as looking up when I go outside, or spending some time thinking about the twists and turns my life has taken, and feeling gratitude for them – even the ones that felt pretty crappy at the time.

Looking Up

I’ve been doing this for about three weeks now, and while I didn’t expect it to magically resolve the negative thoughts I’ve been experiencing, I didn’t expect it to bring up ruminations about what is ‘missing’ from my life.

Let me preface this by saying once again that I love my life. I feel so lucky to be in the position I’m currently in – doing a job I love, living in my own place, making friends with rad people. It is a life that 16 year old Erin could never have dreamed for herself, and I am grateful for it.

But recently, negative feelings have surfaced and begun circling me, like sharks in the water. Feelings about what I’m missing out on being (happily) single. Feelings about being childless and whether this makes me a bad person. They mostly strike in small ways – a lurch of my heart when a colleague brings in his adorable baby boy. A feeling of absence in my stomach when I think of the small things that people do for one another that allows them to feel loved. Wondering whether I really am unable to understand whole swathes of the population because I’m neither a mother nor a wife.

I think it is completely possible to hold gratitude for your life as it is in your heart at the same time as grief for the life that might have been. I just wonder where is the app for sharing that grief? Where do I keep the jar of wistful moments? Where are the courses that teach us how to mourn the things we never had? Where is the instagram account that normalises feelings of failure, of being an imposter, of wishing you were more of something else?

In many ways, learning to deal with these feelings is the more important practice – at least for me. Right now, I feel like my gratitude practice is just papering over the cracks, trying to put a gloss of sunshine over a life that often has as much darkness as light. But I don’t know what else to do, except allow the light to shine in and as much as I can – grab hold of the darkness and expose it to the light – seeing it, knowing it, understanding it.

And maybe eventually, letting it go.

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2 thoughts on “Gratitude and grief

  1. It feels to me that we (women in particular, but probably humans in general) have spent so much time (necessarily) defending our life choices, that we’ve become almost incapable of acknowledging what we lost when we made those choices. We may not regret them, but we can still see the patches of greener grass. I don’t regret having kids, but I sometimes look longingly at my friends who didn’t. And the simple fact that I feel compelled to say “I don’t regret…” shows the social norms around never admitting that we can’t have it all, and with every choice, we’re losing something, as well as gaining something.

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