Thursday, November 6, 2014

The "Gratitude" Red Herring

A lot of us suffer from something I would call a "blessing competition," or maybe even a "gratitude delusion." Such as when I was a kid I would start to feel down and pity myself and then say "Hey, at least you're not starving in Africa," or "At least you didn't have to cross the plains like the pioneers and lose the family you loved." Unfortunately it's something that's been passed down for generations. Think of everything bad in the world and all the misery others have endured to urge people to feel gratitude for what they have. It was the same in my family (with the best of intentions, of course).

Well, when I mentioned this to a very wise woman (actually, my therapist at the time) she said that the mental and emotional suffering most of us have today is just as hard as crossing the plains in winter, or any number of other hardships. Especially because it's such a lonely pain, it all happens within us personally. It's not a group trial. I think she would know since she saw the intense suffering of all her patients and their lives.

I know that every person on this earth will suffer trials in their lives. Everyone handles them differently, but what is hard for me, may not be hard for you, and vice versa. There were times when I thought I would much rather be pulling a handcart with my minuscule supply of belongings and empty belly, than deal with the trial that currently had me in it's grips. Everyone's trials are meant to test them and to help them build a stronger character, and since each person is unique, so are their trials. Makes sense doesn't it?

Anne Frank wrote in her diary about when her mother told a friend looking for advice, that since she was having a hard time she should think of "all the sorrow in the world and be glad you're not sharing in it." Personally that causes self-loathing in myself; feeling like I'm ungrateful. A feeling of shame for the pain I feel because my life could be so much "worse." Well, guess what, "worse" is relative. "Hard" is relative. My niece said "Hard is hard. My life is hard, your life is hard. Hard is hard." You've had trials in your life, and so have I. Comparing them is, to me, as bad as comparing how clean your house is to the neighbors'.

We try to force gratitude as a form of "perfectionism." The same way we always try to look perfect on the outside (house, family, clothes, etc.), we try to feel perfect on the inside too. But I strongly believe that it's okay to feel our pain and say "This hurts; this is hard." I'm not suggesting we just give up. There are a huge variety of things you can do to be happy again, or friends, or therapists you can talk to. We don't have to continue suffering, but I do hope that we stop feeling guilt and shame for our pain.
God wanted us all tested, the privileged and the poor. Don't EVER think that someone's life is perfect. Don't EVER assume that someone has it easier or harder than you. The blessings we recieve from the trials we endure are all different as well.
We're all in this together. And I also strongly believe that God could have put us all on individual planets to live out our own lives and trials, but he put us together because we need each other and we can help each other. I know that to be true, but it's still hard for me to accept the help of others. Pride, I know. 

Anne Frank wrote in her diary, in rebuttal to her mother's words: "What's the good in thinking of all the misery, when we are already miserable?... I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains." 
She also suggested going out into nature and feeling close to God and nature to cure your sorrows. 

That sounds like a much better plan to me. That and being there for each other without judgement. 


1 comment:

Liz said...

Crystal, this is amazing. I think you explained it well. Hard is hard! In my house I have a plaque that says "We can do hard things." I like that we can both admit it hard but still keep at it. Love it!