Gratitude is a tricky endeavor. I’ve always understood why gratitude is important, but I’ve never really gotten it, you know? Its sort of like the concept of Wifi: Generally, I understand how it works. Something about signals and receivers and magic. In actuality, I don’t have any freaking clue what goes on inside of my Wifi box, and I don’t give it much thought unless the signal is down and I immediately turn into a ball of rage.
As a middle-class American, I understand that I have it better than a significant amount of people living on this planet. I could have been born at any other time or place in history, but by some good fortune, I was born into the life that I have now. This alone should be enough to make me take pause and count my blessings.
However, like most imperfect humans, I have an ego that rears its ugly head from time to time. Mostly in the form of a 3-lettered conjunction: BUT.
This small but complicated word constantly weasels its way into my subconscious thinking. For example, “I love my house, but I can’t wait to redo the bathroom”, “My dog is great, but he’s super clingy”, “I’m really happy with my yoga practice, but I just want to be able to nail handstand”, “I’m happy that Brendan loaded the dishwasher, but is it really so hard to do it right?”
But. But. But.
I didn’t realize how much the word ‘but’ had hijacked my thoughts, until one day I did.
I’d like to say I had some giant epiphany and my life changed immediately, but it was nothing like that. No flashing lights, or booming voiceover of God stopping me in my tracks. It was more like a small whisper in the back of my head that said, “Hi there, its me. Just thought you should know, you say the word ‘but’ a lot. Like, pretty much every other thought.”
Hmm…. I ruminated on it for a while and came up with 1,001 reasons to justify this pattern of thinking. Surely I wasn’t ungrateful. Not me! I was just slighted in some way, and I need to make that known! I’m just pointing out ways in which life could be better. You know, constructive criticism!
Then I thought, if I were having a conversation with someone and they said, “You know, I’m really happy that I found $10 in my coat pocket, but why couldn’t it have been $20?!” — would I roll my eyes at that person? Yes, absolutely. Once I removed the “I” from the situation, I fully realized how ungrateful I was actually being. I was so easily attuned to everyone else’s whining and complaining, but I was completely deaf to my own.
The first step is admitting that you have a problem. My ‘but’ was a problem. A huuuge problem. Very big problem. I’m sure many, many people would agree with me.
Once my mind became attuned to this pattern, it became like nails on a chalkboard. Every positive thought that I had was tainted with some way in which my situation could be better, some small improvement to my good fortune that would obviously make me so much happier. There was always some trivial injustice that was preventing me from being completely thankful.
I haven’t completely stopped this pattern, and as an imperfect human, I doubt I ever will. For now, I’ve at least taken note of the situation and tried to reframe my thoughts. Oftentimes, this involves a lot of internal dialogue with my ego:
Ego: “I have a lot to be thankful for this year, but-”
Me: “Hold up, let me stop you right there. Are you about to think of a way this could be better?”
Ego: “No! Ok… yeah I guess I was. But-”
Me: “Stop it right now”
Ego: “But –”
Me: “Seriously. STFU already. You are obnoxious”
You know the old men Muppets that are constantly complaining? They could narrate my thoughts on most days.
It’s a work in progress, this mindfulness. Removing the ‘buts’ from my thoughts was sort of like cleaning off a dusty window and letting the light pour in. I have SO much to be grateful for this year, if only I could get out of my own head.
I’m thankful that after a lot of turmoil with my physical and mental health, I am doing well again. I’m thankful for our new house, and the husband and dog that make it a home. I’m grateful that a relative with recurrent cancer received some good news this week. I’m grateful for my precious nephew, who showed me what love at first sight looks like. The list goes on and on. No buts. Just gratitude.
Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving, all!