The Odd Couple: Grief and Gratitude
You may be familiar with research that indicates how powerful gratitude can be
. Perhaps you have a gratitude practice already, or you've been meaning to write down the things you're grateful for every morning. Gratitude is strongly associated with well-being, and this is the season when a lot of people's minds are more inclined toward thankfulness.
It's less common to recognize that gratitude does not always stand alone: it sometimes has grief in its shadow, and they can be viewed as two sides of the same coin, as I wrote above. However, rather than seeing this, most of us are somewhat split in how we think about them. We see gratitude as "good" and grief as "bad." If you saw the movie Inside Out
, you're familiar with this phenomenon.
For much of Inside Out
, Joy is in charge, and she wants to keep Sadness in the background. At one point, she draws a circle on the floor and tells Sadness to stay inside of it, so Sadness doesn't ruin things. However, what Joy (and Sadness herself) discovers over the course of the movie, is that Sadness is not an obstacle or a ruiner of good things. Both Sadness and Joy are fundamentally necessary and contribute to a sense of balance and wholeness. And when there is room for both, wisdom and stability arise.
The same is true of grief and gratitude. Grief is a powerful teacher that
reveals who and what actually matters to you. You only grieve what you care about; what you feel grateful for.
Gratitude gives you a sense of meaning, and a deeper understanding of who you are.
If you suppress your grief, which may be necessary for a period of time, you won't fully know the ways that a person or experience or thing nourished you. You may feel numb. Suppressing your grief means suppressing your gratitude, too. And that can leave you feeling depleted and disconnected from yourself.
The following practice is meant to help you get in touch with both sides of the grief/gratitude coin so that you can find greater wholeness and balance in yourself. You'll want to find a time and place where you can reflect without being disturbed. You'll also want to have paper and pen; or a tablet or phone where you can write out and record your feelings and thoughts.
1. Begin by bringing to mind a situation that has challenged you or evoked feelings of grief or loss. If you were impacted by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, for example, you can practice with those feelings.
2. Write down the situation you want to work with. Note what happened, and be as clear as possible about how you felt or feel about what happened; for example ~ angry, sad, scared, frustrated, hopeless, disgusted, lonely.
3. Look deeper and consider what you feel grief and loss about in this situation. For example, if you are reflecting on the attacks in Paris, maybe you feel grief about the people who lost their lives, or about the ways that a sense of safety has been disrupted there. Write that down.
4. Now, see if you can reflect on what you are grieving and recognize what you are grateful to have known or had. For example, if you feel grief about the people who lost their lives, perhaps you feel grateful to be alive. Maybe you feel a sense of what it would mean to suddenly and violently lose someone you care about, and you realize how grateful you are to have loved ones, to live in relative peace, to have some measure of predictability in your life. Write this down, too.
5. Write a few statements that convey your feelings of gratitude in very straightforward and simple language. For example, you might write:
I feel grateful to care about people and to have people in my life who care about me.
I feel grateful to live in relative peace.
I feel grateful to have some stability in my life.
6. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Silently read the phrases you composed, or see what it's like to read them out loud.
Notice how you feel having recognized both your your grief and your gratitude.