Gratitude in Difficult Times

“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

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They say that gratitude is the enemy of anxiety. There are countless studies that describe the clear link between gratitude and happiness and positive psychologists all around the world are encouraging clients to adopt gratitude practices to combat depression. Gratitude is important for mental health, and so I try to practice gratitude on a daily basis—by acknowledging the people I love, getting out into nature, and reading things that help me appreciate the beauty in our world.

But last week, I didn’t feel grateful. Life seemed out of whack. I felt disconnected from my sense of joy and purpose. I was going through the motions and headed towards a cold winter of gritting my teeth, bearing down, saving money and staving against the pain of loss and change.

Though I couldn’t pinpoint what sparked this sudden sadness, it was reminiscent of other times when I’ve focused on how to ‘make it through’ and anticipated something bad around the bend. I was frustrated with myself for not feeling happy about all my blessings.

Somehow in the midst of feeling this lack, I decided that I wanted to write a blog post on gratitude. I had come across articles (like this one) that described how a gratitude practice can change our lives by improving our physical health, giving us new relationships, helping us sleep better, and making us more emotionally stable. I listened to a podcast where I heard the Rumi quote, “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” But I wondered how one gets motivated to kiss a ground that feels dirty, hard and unforgiving.

On Halloween, I went on a long evening walk into Boulder canyon with a good friend. The remaining leaves were golden and almost gone. The cars were whipping past us, and trick or treaters sprinted joyfully between lavishly decorated houses. I felt frustrated by it all—by Boulder, and privilege, and how humans are creating global warming with careless consumption. I didn’t feel like talking or opening to what I was feeling. I felt like hiding from this world which seemed too sad.

But a small part of me also recognized that my mind was running a story line that wasn’t helpful or true.  I didn’t want to hide from my friend. I wanted to connect and be real with him, even if I couldn’t be real with myself.

Though I had to force myself, I talked.  My friend listened and validated my experience. He shared similar things that he had been struggling with. We walked for 2 hours. He encouraged me to go easy on myself. He reminded me of the bigger picture.

As I opened up more and more, I felt like I could say anything to my friend and it would be respected and heard. I began to notice the patterns on the rock, the sounds of the wild creek rapids. I had more of an ability to listen to my environment. Then we were laughing and deciding what trashy movie we would watch that night. We talked about my friend’s hilarious muppet dog and how glad we were to be friends.

I slowly felt more spacious.

Psychologists discuss many ways to connect with what we’re grateful for. When we focus on our blessings rather than our gripes, we feel more abundant, connected, and happier. We can do this by praying, writing what we’re grateful for, telling the people we love how much we appreciate them, changing our thought patterns, and getting out into nature. When we practice gratitude, we feel more grateful. We exude positive energy and we attract positive people to us.

But one of the most important ways to kneel and kiss the ground, I realized, is to honor our experiences and to give others a chance to honor them. Gratitude emerges when we treat ourselves kindly by giving our emotions the same care we would give a hurting child.

When we act with this care, the emotions that we hold onto finally have a chance to pass through us. And we finally feel like the ground—and the home where our emotions live—are kinder places to kiss.

 

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Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist individuals practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.