“To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that ‘I’m only human’ does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality.” Brene Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection”
“The Gifts of Imperfection” was the first Brene Brown book I ever read, right after starting graduate school as a wide-eyed, broken-in-need-of-healing, insecure, terrified-but-intensely-curious, momma and wife in the throws of toddlers, financial struggles, self-doubt, and other life transitions. Little did I know how profoundly Brown’s research and writing would influence me in the years to come. Years that have been both the most intense but also most rewarding and growth-producing times in my life thus far. What I did know when I read the book was that it – the ideas in it, the challenges, the truths – deeply resonated with the part of me that was striving to become a more healthy, wholehearted (another term Brene Brown coined) person who lives out her love for others with well-boundaried vulnerability. Learning to live a life of gratitude for myself and others has been an important part of this growth process. During my own counseling sessions and those that I lead with others, I often turn to what gratitude, even in tough times. While gratitude is on everyone’s lips as Thanksgiving approaches, few people actually take the time to consider what it really means to be grateful. Let’s take a closer look at gratitude and how it impacts our ability to lead healthier lives.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is an incredibly important building block for a healthy, wholehearted life. In this season, we seem to hear and see and read the words “gratitude,” “thanks,” and “thankfulness,” everywhere we turn. They have become so commercialized in the Thanksgiving season that it’s easy to become desensitized to the meaning and significance of gratitude. Instead, we check “counting our blessings” off of our never-ending to-do-list along with “buying a turkey” and “raking the leaves in the front yard.” Real gratitude and true thankfulness are about turning the feelings of goodwill we tout at Thanksgiving into action and real “concreate common good,” as Brown stated.
How Will Gratitude Impact My Life?
Maybe you are like me and you wonder sometimes what it would look like to be a little more intentional about gratitude. To not only practice gratitude because the season or our religion dictates us to do so, but to intentionally nurture and integrate the practice of gratitude into every aspect of our everyday life. Would my life be different? Would my attitude really change? Could it maybe even change my hardened heart towards some aspects of my life, or some of the people in it? Is it worth the effort?
I can’t tell you the answers to those first 3 questions; after all, each of our journeys looks different. But I can give you a wholehearted “YES,” from my personal experience, in answer to the last question. Actively, intentionally, seeking out aspects of your life and people in it to be thankful for, is worth the effort. It’s worth the drudging through the fog on days that feel nothing but dark and heavy. It’s worth reaching past the hurt and pain that other’s behavior can inflict on our heart and finding that little piece of empathy that is enough to help us forgive. It is worth reaching a hand across the table after a 2-hour fight with your spouse to remind yourself and them that there is more that connects you than that separates you.
What Does it Mean to Have Gratitude for Others?
The people in our lives are among the many things we can choose to be thankful for in this holiday season and year round – those living, breathing, imperfect, mistake-making, sometimes downright difficult and hurtful creatures we call friends, family, co-workers – are probably the most complicated to find gratitude for on a regular basis. As Brown says, “It means growing gentler toward human weakness; it means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards.” That’s no easy feat. It can be messy and feel vulnerable and uncomfortable to intentionally do this with those around us, sometimes even ourselves. But the reward? The reward is beautiful. The reward is genuine human connection, something we all strive for. It’s a need that is maybe even greater than our need for love. We are all starved for genuine human connection, and we all try to fill that need in many different ways, only to find that nothing can replace its sacred space in our hearts and souls. This holiday season, I challenge you (and myself!) to start practicing gratitude for others, daily. I challenge us to be openly curious about the changes this daily practice can bring to our lives – and I look forward to reaping the rewards of feeling deeply connected to others!
Can Counseling Help Me Develop Gratitude for Others?
Absolutely. Whether you’re visiting with me or one of my colleagues at Central Arkansas Group Counseling one-on-one, with a partner, or as a family, we can help you reflect on your gratitude for the your loved ones and other you come in contact with and turn it into a real and concrete good in your life that can help you to feel happier and healthier. Simply reach out to me or any member of the Central Arkansas Group Counseling team in Benton or North Little Rock to get started.