Giving Thanks Amidst Hardship: It Sucks, But Just Try Anyway

Feel the gratitude - it's where truth lives. (Image Credit: Unsplash/Emma Frances Logan Barker)

Feel the gratitude - it's where truth lives. (Image Credit: Unsplash/Emma Frances Logan Barker)

It’s an incredible quality to be able to opt for a happy disposition when you’re being pummeled by life’s at-times ineffable chaos. I admire those who are inherently joyful, or those, even, who find within them the power to turn that happy feeling on like it’s a switch. I aspire to possess that quality within myself. But at present, I just don’t. 

I wish I were a glass-half-full person, but I’m a different breed. Though I’ve never officially been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, I’m aware that both of these things, beyond a shadow of a doubt, are wont every now and again (…and again) to creep quietly up on me, shrouding my existence and disrupting my daily life.

I stare at my feet and kick the dirt as I walk. I lament how little is in the glass at all, fully concentrated on just how empty it really is. 

I don’t particularly notice the blinders affixed to my face, but I’m aware that they’re there. I pull out my magnifying glass, and hone in on every single one of my life’s stressors. I inspect and dissect them, becoming increasingly sure that any single one will lead to my final undoing. Swirling around my head are images of all that I’m lacking, each of which, I decide, will certainly evade me to the end of my days. Woe is me, I lament, as my certainty over my sad state grows steadily in strength. 

But why is this my practice, and why is this line of thinking so common? Realistically, is that glass half-empty at all? And even if it is, should we not make it our mission to marvel at all we’ve got regardless? Well yes, of course, we think. Life is a miracle. And of course it is.

So why, given the state of the world outside our bedroom window, are we so hell-bent on bringing about our own demise from the inside? 

I’ll tell you why. It’s because practicing gratitude can be really hard. 

I’m not talking about thanking that complete stranger for holding the elevator door for you, or about showing some level of gratitude for that ridiculously impressive amount of pizza you ate at 11 o’clock last night. These small things, while good and significant and part of an important and greater whole, are not the thick of it.  

 I find myself increasingly more tired of my sadness, which is a canyon I’ve hollowed out all on my own. Surely I can claw my way out...

This sort of gratitude to which I’m referring is buried deep within your thankfulness. It is your Divine Thank You, placed carefully under the lens of a microscope. It is flung far up into the sky, reaching the realms of outer space, still visible from earth. It is life-giving, it is weighty, and it seeps into your pores every time you inhale. 

It is precisely the sort of gratitude that, if you’re like me, you might find yourself overwhelmed with a handful of times every year, but not much more than that. And this is for two reasons, I think: Firstly, and sadly, we get so easily wrapped up in kicking pebbles along the ground while we dwell on the things that are tugging at our shirtsleeves. It’s this exhausting quality that leaves us thinking that our fears and our sadness deserve center-stage while all of our life’s greatest blessings dot the background like unimportant drivel. 

Secondly though, and this is important: Living that way — living in a state of some level of near-constant gratitude — is a tricky thing to do. And if I’m being honest, it doesn’t even sound that appealing. I already find myself walking around with my heart beating wildly on my sleeve, hardly feeling as though I’ve got any skin on at all. My mind and my body swell with empathy, with grief, with great joy and abounding heartache. So throwing into that mix the sort of gratitude that rattles your bones feels as though it might take me down. 

But enough must at some point become enough. I find myself increasingly more tired of my sadness, which is a canyon I’ve hollowed out all on my own. Surely I can claw my way out, and I’m certain that the steps upward are lined with that profound gratitude that reminds us exactly how lucky we are to be here at all. I can stand no more for this I’m-not-crying-you’re-crying business.

Because I am crying. I’m crying because things are hard, because things are good, because things are desolate and devoid, because things are wild and things are full. 

Gratitude is hard. But it’s necessary. It doesn’t always come easy, it never stays quite long enough, and it won’t necessarily provide us with the quick and easy answers we’re hunting around for. But we are called, I believe, to usher it into our lives at every chance we get — in droves if we should be so lucky — because so many of us know exactly how burdensome it is to feel like garbage all the time. 

So join me, would you? In clawing our way out of our dark caverns, in looking up into the sky at our Divine Thank Yous, and in holding space for the good. Our joy and gratitude may not manifest itself as a rushing and constant river, but it will be present all the same. Also present, as we know, will be that pizza.

Because one does not just seamlessly get through life without gratuitous amounts of pizza. And for that, we should give thanks. 

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