November, 25 2015
There are some interesting studies about the positive effects of gratitude and this article from the Harvard Medical School describes a few. But it’s the following paragraph that catches my eye:
There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not.
As a middle-aged divorced woman I know how hard it is to be grateful when you are experiencing hormonal changes and deep emotional pain. Pasting on a happy face of gratitude is no fun when you’re not feeling it.
My former business coach, Anne Sagendorph-Moon, supported me in keeping my practice blossoming even when I was going through a horrible midlife divorce several years ago. She gave me the task of writing out a gratitude list before bed most nights. “Keep your resonance up”, she would tell me. At the same time, I could be frank with her when I felt wretched.
Those were the times Anne told me to write ‘Ef-You’ letters to burn, not send. This releases negative feelings without hurting anyone. “It’s not good or bad, it’s just energy” she said. Another exercise was to set a timer for 20 minutes and have a massive, but brief self-pity party to get it out of my system. Both are powerful exercises that transformed my state of mind from turmoil to calm. Gratitude is not about rug-sweeping or putting on a stiff upper lip when things suck. Instead, find a safe way to release the emotions that are getting in the way.
Now that I’m on the other side of divorce and menopause, I use gratitude as a regular practice, and I do feel a strong benefit. During the week my boyfriend, Gary, and I talk on the phone and tell each other the stories of our day. We relax and let our hair down, feeling free to complain if we are struggling. However, we don’t leave it there.
Towards the end of the call we each share 3 things that we are grateful for. My mind scans for something good and even on a tough day I can find something: The persimmon I ate, the cozy fireplace, the fact that I have someone caring to talk to. I hear his voice brighten as he shares his gratitude and we end the call with the feeling that life is good.
I wasn’t raised in a family that expressed positive thoughts and emotions. Appreciation was rarely mentioned. Compliments were considered embarrassing at best, and dangerous at worst because they might lead to a swelled head. Instead we used a form of affectionate teasing that simultaneously expressed both fondness and criticism. It had a bite to it and kept me on edge.
Families can change. Now we have woven words of gratitude into our time together and I relax more in my family’s company. At gatherings we often add the simple ritual of passing around a talking piece. When you hold this object you can speak from the heart and everyone listens without interrupting. When you are finished you pass the talking piece to the next person in the circle. We’ve used a wooden spoon or a stick with a pine-cone we found on a walk. I enjoy listening to them and I know I will get a turn to express myself. When I speak, my words seem to mean more because I am listened to.
Last year my brother-in-law David passed away, and I treasure some beautiful things he told us: “I am grateful for my wife and all the things she does to show she cares. I never knew it was possible to experience this much love.” This kind of thing just wouldn’t get expressed in the normal course of conversation. It still touches me deeply.
Gratitude practices give me another way to uplift my state of mind with ease. I feel closer to others, and in general I am happier. I recently asked my 91-year-old mother what she thinks of sharing gratitudes, and she said, “They’re fun!”
How do you share gratitude with others?
What do you do when you just don’t feel grateful?
If you are a mid-life divorced woman, does the Harvard Medical School article sound right and that gratitude doesn’t work so well for you?