Gratitude. It’s something many of us strive to cultivate in our lives, and a common practice of doing this is to list out all the things we’re grateful for, right? We sit down to make a list of 10-20 things we’re grateful for, and pretty soon, we start to see our lives through a lens of gratitude! It’s quick, easy, and it works!
It’s beautiful how doing this simple practice can change the way we view our lives! And it can quite literally turn our whole day around, right? While this practice is absolutely wonderful, it’s possible to press into this gratitude even deeper and find a sense of greater authenticity within us.
How? Let’s go a bit deeper!
Some of the items on our gratitude list may entail looking at others’ lives and finding gratitude in the things we have, that others don’t (especially when comparing to others living in material poverty, etc.). This is can be a good thing and I do it too! However, we might want to pause and be mindful that this way of practicing gratitude could be harmful if left unchecked.
How? While all those items on our lists are likely true and we’re sincerely grateful for them, there is one unintended consequence of doing this that could be unknowingly harmful…
First, practicing gratitude is a mindful practice and it trains our brains to think differently. That’s why it works! If we’re practicing comparison while we’re training our brains, guess what we might be training our brains to do? Compare! Yes, in this sense, comparison makes us feel good because we’re comparing the things we have in our lives that others don’t. Yet, this is where it can become even more harmful if we aren’t aware of what’s happening…
Ultimately, comparison fosters a mindset of inferiority to superiority. And this type of comparison can be harmful to the way we view, understand, and engage with those we’re comparing ourselves to. This way of thinking may instead cause us to pity others and build pride within ourselves (Could that pride possibly be part of why thinking in this way brings us good feelings when we’re comparing our lives to others in a gratitude exercise?) When we begin to pity others and allow pride to build in our hearts, that pride begins to cast a shadow and we start to lose some of the authentic gratitude we’re seeking. At the same time, we’re taking away dignity from those we pity (such as comparing our running water to those who don’t have water). It can be a vicious cycle we may not even be aware of!
So, how do we balance gratitude and this comparison?
This is what I do. Perhaps it will work for you too!
First, I write out all the things I’m grateful for (comparisons or not). Then, I look at my life and contemplate whether my life looks like I hoped it would be. Am I where I want to be, or am I headed in the right direction? I do this, knowing that my mind often paints a “perfect” picture of what I think life will be like, and life often looks a little different (and often it’s better too!). This way, I’m comparing my actual life to what I hoped my life would be. I’m not comparing to others! While doing this, I also try to be mindful of comparison and pride as a whole. I let myself feel all the warm fuzzies ☺️, but I also go deeper. Of course, I don’t think there is a “right” way to practice cultivating gratitude, but it works for me, and it might for you too!
So, when you’re making your gratitude lists this season, try to go a bit deeper. Considering comparisons to others is certainly alright and even helpful, but remember to keep in check the point at which this comparison can be hurtful too. After all, a gratitude exercise is intended to bring about authentic gratitude - and going a bit deeper in what we’re grateful for and why, can help us find the authenticity in our lives we’re ultimately seeking!
You’ll certainly find me making gratitude lists this season that are full of “all the things”, including items that are ultimately comparisons too. But, you’ll also find me going a bit deeper to keep those comparisons in-check, considering whether I’m headed in the direction I hope, and the opportunities for growth that lie ahead! After all, I’m a work in progress who’s choosing to cultivate authentic gratitude in my life.
Who’s with me? In what other ways could you toe-the-line of cultivating authentic gratitude in your life?
“The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.” - Robert Holden