Protesting Gratitude on the Eve of Thanksgiving


         With so many things to protest, would I really choose gratitude? I suppose the answer would have to be yes. Actually not only do I get cranky around the pressure to feel grateful on cue, I actually think it is bad for people. I’m talking here about forced gratitude, as in the call to singing joyful phrases while presenting cancer victims and survivors with pink ribbons—as just one example.

         This came up for me just yesterday when I was visiting a friend in another state who had offered me a ticket to a psycho-spiritual conference meant to inspire hope in oneself and in the world. She had just been ill and was better now and my coming with her was important. The first sign of being asked to scream thanks to the universe had me almost on my feet, fleeing the room. But feeling Ellen would be upset I stayed. Thank the heavens (organic gratitude, I would call this), she glanced at me and whispered in a knowing way, “I don’t think I can take much of this either.  Let’s escape for lunch and not come back”: relief for both of us.

         It brought up for me also a number of people I see in therapy who are chronically dissatisfied with who they are, with whether they have been married or married and divorced and remarried yet, with whether they are conforming to the “going with the flow” which seems to me to be more like following a herd mentality. The eagerness of a gratitude assumed to be mindful, can sometimes shame the people who are feeling estranged in some way. That estrangement may come either through economic or social inequality, or through depression or trauma that have not gone away despite odes telling them to change their focus and think only about the good things in their life.

         It’s not Thanksgiving yet, but of course. It is pumpkin time and even eggnog time in some stores. So let’s say it’s pre-Thanksgiving, usually marked by Halloween on its merry way to pre-Christmas/”holiday” cheerful giving, which is usually over abundance for some and silent isolation for others who do not have the funds. One certainly doesn’t hear much of a protest of all the gift giving from those who don’t talk out loud about not having the money to take part.

         Back to the part about mandatory gratitude perhaps not being good for one’s health and wellbeing and certainly not for one’s integrity. On the inside at times there are conflicts and wounds that need to be faced before gratitude can be real. On the outside there are plenty of social issues that are screaming for repair and attention as well. Economist and social activist Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out in her book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America (Picador, 2010) how relentless emphasis on making lemonade out of lemons so to speak can focus our energies away from external problems needing our attention.

         I find that gratitude can be something very rich and vital. It can be deeply moving to look at the life and health and growth and the discoveries we can get to experience. In particular I find it can feel touching to experience the appreciation for the people who know us, who understand us, and who love us despite our faults.

         I have mentioned before how crankiness can be a signal that something is off in our environment, and not always just that something is off inside us. The same may be true of gratitude. Yes, not having it or enough of it may mean we are greedy or motivated by incessant needs for power and celebrity—some of which become obsessions whose emptiness can never be filled. Sometimes, however, it may mean that something is wrong—something that needs to be understood and mended if possible.

         Some of us are deeply sensitive to the ills of the world and take them personally. For that my answer of sorts is that we come together because caring alone is often just too lonely. But also one of the answers I have come up with is to probe the reasons under the given reasons for the greater malaise and the adversarial atmosphere that plagues our time. It isn’t just understanding better but understanding how people in power use psychology as a force to manipulate us into hating each other, into distraction and into resignation. Being manipulated into thinking that gratitude at any cost and on demand is the answer to mental and social health may just be part of an effort to keep our minds detached from coming together to ask how we are kept stuck. It can become a predictable script that forges a make believe connectedness to a make believe community.

         By the way I am grateful for being able to force my way out of my own congestion to have some thoughts and feelings that seem to matter. I will be ever so much more grateful if I have some company along the way.

 One moment and one holiday at a time.

# Gratitude

# Forced Gratitude

# Thanksgiving

On Being Enough

         While on my exercise bike, I surfed onto the second half of the film “Crazy Rich Asians” which I had sort of avoided because I told myself it would be trite and silly. And then all of a sudden I found myself sobbing.

         The future mother-in-law tells her potential daughter-in-law, while taking the girl’s face in her hands, “You will never be enough”. However there is a turn of events, inner events really so that there is a shift that changes everything. And wow my tears kept flowing. Why was that? Where did that come from?

         It hit me hard that it was about the feeling of being enough, and it hit me that my sobbing had to be about me. I cried the hardest when the shift came, when the loving and appreciation came into existence. It was the crying of regret about my own experiences of feeling like I was not enough, and the yearning and sense of possibility of feeling differently in the present.

         I know I’m not alone here, in that there are so many people who sacrifice their truest selves to live up to expectations that make them strangers to themselves. It is the hardest when early experiences were filled with shaming and being made to doubt and compare, and then the outside world echoes those sounds of harshness.

         This can be especially hard for those who walk to a different drummer than the rest of people who seem, at least on the surface, to march strictly and without question to the political correctness police of the day. In the nightmare (and boon, I know) of social media, comparisons and experiences of being left out or behind the social spectacles and events that seem to matter can be sudden and cutting.

         The problem becomes a bit like bullying: just because a bully talks or hits louder or more forcefully and sounds smarter doesn’t mean he/she is right. But when bullying echoes the pains caused by earlier assaults of the mind or the body, self-doubt is more pronounced. And when the social scene echoes the not being known or understood or respected and validated of earlier days, the sense of not being enough seems absolute. It can be like hearing voices—messages confirming either that you are not good enough or that nobody will ever understand. All the while there is no room for real learning and growing, because the doors to real honesty and sharing have been closed. The atmosphere becomes too crowded with the noises from inside, noises that often say it is better to settle for relationships that are relationships in name only. They become “better than nothing”, because in one’s fantasy, they keep the prospect of being alone forever at bay. Doors are closed and nothing new can happen.

         None of this can be fixed by a mantra only, as far as I can see. The inner experience, and what it feels like, and where it comes from, or where it seems to come from, are like living cells that need to be owned and witnessed in the present even if they were not in the past. In addition it’s easier to feel we are not enough, as in not worthy of attention and dignity for our wounds, if they don’t qualify for obviously and trendy injustices that can seem to diminish and even humiliate the suffering that is not publically noticed at a given point in time.

A good number of the people I’ve seen in therapy are drowning in the sense of not being enough. People in their mid-thirties, for example, may not be attached to a love partner while their friends are married with children. Why aren’t they married or having an easy time finding people who in some ways might make good company or friends, as a start? I have found that so many people are looking for ways to fit in, in styles that don’t match who they really are. It becomes a series of lies in order to please or placate or seduce people they may not even like. There is, as suggested before, the tendency to feel inadequate for feeling lonely because it “must be me” is the common refrain.

         And we need to be careful here again. It is all too easy for therapies or mindfulness techniques to advertise easy ways to feel strong and authentic with steps that skip over a person’s layers of inner fears and hurt. Being known in the present is not a solution to pain from the past but it can be a consolation and the beginning of new possibilities of reclaiming the right to refute the external or internal voices of relentless negativity.

         Being enough doesn’t mean getting a free pass on growing up, and becoming accountable for coping with conflicts and with life challenges. It is just that if we don’t get to what stops us from feeling like we are enough, we will take to constant absorption in self-loathing, in fakeness or in blaming other people as the knee jerk reaction to hating our own experiences of vulnerability.

         Even though I didn’t mean this to be a political blog, the connections invariably come to me. And as such, my thoughts go to our current state of affairs and how we are so polarized. We are so divided, also because some of us hide the feeling of not being enough by demonizing other people.

As of now I can’t see anything more important than tackling this epidemic, so perhaps we could care enough to empathize, and to heal—each other, our world and ourselves.

#On being enough

#Social comparisons

#Crazy Rich Asians