When You Want To Be Thankful {But You're Not}

It’s easy to guess November’s theme on social media. We tend to see it all around: expressions of gratitude. 

I see these posts and conversations and I love what folks are doing. I appreciate their intention.

But the truth is, I meet loads of people who shame themselves over their inability to experience thankfulness. 

It usually sounds a little like this:

“I hate how I’m feeling. I should feel so grateful. I really am blessed. I must be terrible.

What do we do with these sentiments? Do we write off gratitude as a practice? Do we say some people just aren't thankful? 

I say no. 

Here’s the thing, it’s okay to feel your feelings. And in order to become resilient to shame, we MUST be willing to do this. I’m not proposing we don’t have much to be thankful for, in fact, if you live in North America, I know you do.

What I am proposing is shaming ourselves takes away the value of gratefulness. There is no benefit to shame. 

To understand what I mean, you have to get the core of shame. 

Brene Brown defines it this way:

“Shame says ‘I am bad’, but guilt says 'I did something bad.'”

Do you see the difference? One says you don't have value and the other says you have value, but you have room to change. Healthy guilt can lead us to good, honest, self-reflection, repentance and growth, but shame will lead you straight to death. 

It’s worth exploring this phenomenon because the practice of gratitude is powerful. Studies upon studies show us the ways in which experiencing and noticing how we are blessed does increase our resilience, quality of life, and overall mental health.

And yet, I see shame as roadblock to connecting to the value of these concepts. If we are ever to fully connect with gratitude, we must learn to fight shame. 

If you find yourself resonating with this battle, here are some suggestions:  

Invite the Lord into the process. The beautiful thing about God, is that it’s his kindness that leads us to repentance/change (Romans 2:4). Because of this, we can know shame is not from him. As you lean into this process, I would encourage you to ask him to show his character.

Own the fact that you’re experiencing shame. Shame is like mold. When we keep it in the dark, with secrecy and facades it continues to grow. We also know, “whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open" (Mark 4:22). Thus, when the mold gets light and air, only then can we get rid of it thoroughly. The same is true for shame, we must acknowledge it's presence. 

Normalize with someone safe. Do you have safe people to talk to when you’re stuck in shame? If not, now is a great time to start looking or it may be helpful to contact a counselor or other resource to begin creating healthier community. Someone who is healthy will not judge or blame you for experiencing shame, but rather help you to understand it’s happening and feel your feelings. Brene Brown, in her research, found we can gain resilience against shame, simply by speaking it to someone who is safe.

Start with mindfulness. A small step towards gratefulness is simply to be present in your moments. How many times do we have startling beauty in front of us, and we don't even realize it because we are wrapped up in anxiety? Jesus speaks to this when he tells us to abide in him (John 15:4). When we abide, we are all there. We don’t even need to make judgements about the moments we’re in, we choose to simply notice the present. 

Lean into gratitude. Now that we're present in our moments, we can finally connect with the practice of gratitude. I love Ann Voskamp's (and many therapists before her) strategy of a gratitude journal, creating a ritual to talk about it with family at dinner, or simply spending intentional time reflecting about it. Any way you do it, it's one of the oldest and most effective ways to savor life. 

How about you? When are you able to connect with gratitude? 


***Please note, while I am a licensed professional counselor, this blog is not a substitute for professional clinical care.***