Sometimes I wonder if I’m simplifying the idea of embracing gratitude in these posts. The fact is, being grateful is difficult sometimes. It takes a lot of practice and persistence. I’m still working on being more grateful and constantly being distracted along the way.
The important thing to remember, I think, is that embracing gratitude as a way of life is not a “one-and-done” proposition. Gratitude can be fleeting. And we can be fickle with our attitudes and emotions depending on what’s going on in our lives.
I think one of the biggest distractions and hindrances to achieving a sense of gratitude is envy—feeling resentful because of something someone else has or does and desiring the same object or advantage.
Thoughts of envy can pop into our minds pretty much anytime, even when we wouldn’t expect them to. And when this happens it can wipe out thoughts of gratitude.
For example, imagine receiving a great gift for your birthday and immediately feeling grateful. Then shortly after, you glance out the window and spot the neighbor’s new car, one you couldn’t possibly afford. Suddenly, your gift doesn’t seem so great. There’s always someone who has more than you do. Feeling satisfied and grateful for what you have isn’t always easy.
A common source of envy revolves around money. A survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults sponsored by personal finance company NerdWallet and conducted by The Harris Poll showed that nearly three out of five Americans have felt envious of someone else’s financial situation.
Money isn’t the only thing that can lead to feelings of envy. We can be envious of someone else’s home, car, appearance, job, family, health, travel, friendships, personality, and on and on. Think of how easy it is to feel envious when someone posts vacation photos from exotic places on Facebook. Or when a friend gets a great promotion while you’re stuck in the same job.
There are seemingly endless reasons for us to be envious, all of them unhealthy and in direct opposition to gratitude.
Envy isn’t the only thing that can get in the way of gratitude. Daily aggravations can easily push us in the wrong direction and even sour our moods for a while.
Maybe you’re running late for an appointment, and on the way you miss a traffic light because the driver in front of you was texting too long. Or you’re on hold for a call for a long time and then get hung up on and have to start all over again. Your boss might be in a bad mood, or you have an argument with a co-worker or friend.
All these things might seem minor. But if you’re facing more serious struggles like unemployment or an illness, they can suddenly seem like big deals that make it difficult to be grateful.
One way to bring gratitude to mind when you’re envious or aggravated is to immediately think of something you are grateful for. I try to do this, but I admit it’s not always easy. The key, I think, is to make it a habit through practice.
As author Joshua Becker points out, “we would all fare better if we learned to treat gratitude as a discipline of the heart, one that requires attention and consistent practice. Gratitude requires practice when it’s easy and even more practice when it’s difficult.”
Unfortunately, Becker notes, gratitude can be finicky. “There are seasons of life where gratitude is easy, when your home is warm, when you’re eating a delicious meal, when your child’s report card is impressive, when everything is lining up exactly as you had envisioned.”
Other times, when there is struggle and hardship, gratitude can remain elusive. “And yet those are the days we need it the most,” Becker says. Those are the seasons of life when strength, optimism and perspective help carry us through, he says.
To help practice gratitude every day, Becker suggests scheduling five-minute periods of thoughtful thankfulness every day; intentionally finding gratitude in the simple joys of life; keeping a gratitude journal; and beginning prayer with a period of thankfulness.
Check out this YouTube presentation by Becker on gratitude. It’s fairly brief and quite compelling.
We can’t be grateful all the time, but we do have to train ourselves to be grateful a great deal of the time. I takes lots of practice. We have to keep at it until it becomes a habit.
“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”—Sonja Lyubomirsky