Gratitude journal open to a page with the words, "I am grateful for"

Finding Gratitude In My Gratitude Journey

“Do not believe the road signs. There is no ONE WAY. If it’s your truth, then it is the right way. There are many paths beyond the rules of limited thinking. Trust your instincts.”
Bryant McGill

“I dreaded that journal and the commitment I had made to write a total of six things that I was grateful for every day.”

I remember when I first started my healing journey and began exploring personal development resources, it seemed like every book, person, and blog post was encouraging me to start a gratitude practice, like it was the number one thing to do! You know… “just add to your routine today, and it will drastically change your life.”


Sitting and journaling gratitudes

The way the gratitude practice was presented or explained would vary. Some recommended writing down three things you were grateful for in the morning, and then three things you were grateful for at night, right before going to sleep. Others recommended writing down three things in the morning and leaving it at that, some recommended writing down gratitudes after meditating. I also remember a few individuals suggesting to keep coming back to gratitudes multiple times throughout the day.

Here are some of the messages that I had received around gratitude practice:

“It will really change your outlook on life!” 
“It will really help you pay more attention to the small things that may go unnoticed, but that you are actually grateful for.”
“It can really help you see how much good there is!” 
“It can really help you begin to appreciate life more!”

All of those statements sounded pretty great to me, given that, at the time I was very depressed, felt like a burden, and felt like there was no point. 

“Surely it could be beneficial to me to start a gratitude practice,” I thought.

And so I did. I started a gratitude practice. I began my gratitude journey by writing three gratitudes in the morning right after waking up, and then three more at night before going to bed.

Person sitting in front of computer dreading work

I had been told that at the beginning, this process could feel forced, silly, or inauthentic and that I’d probably start out with more of the “obvious” things, yet that over time it would really shift how I experience life, and that this would really help me notice more subtle things in life, and that I would be able to notice this shift if I ever looked back through the journal. 

You may be wondering what I meant by more “obvious” things, and I really don’t like using that word, to be honest, because they are definitely not obvious things, and yet this was a part of my experience and I don’t want the discomfort in sharing about my experience to prevent me from sharing it fully. So you may be wondering what some of these “obvious” things were… Clothing, shelter, and food were included in that category for me, and I realize how privileged I am that I have had a home, access to food, and clothing throughout my life so far, and I know this is not a given.

I remember when I started working with a coach, he also recommended that I add a gratitude practice to my routine, and I was excited and proud because I had already started doing that. The gratitude practice was already a part of my routine! In a way, I felt like I was doing something right! This felt reassuring, and it was one more message I received to keep going with this gratitude practice. When we connected for our coaching sessions, he would ask me how it was going, and I would nod my head and say, “It’s going okay!”

Really what was happening was: every day when I looked at what I had been grateful for, I felt so much shame and disgust within myself.

I kept pushing these feelings away, and I would tell myself to just keep going because everyone said to keep going. Everyone said that it would get better and that the shift would just be so amazing that it was worth the discomfort… Apparently, the discomfort was normal, and perhaps it’s true that there can be discomfort in trying new things, but when is it too much? The gratitude practice couldn’t possibly be such a challenging thing to do - I mean, everyone else was doing it, and they were all sharing how amazing and life-changing it was…

So I pushed myself, and I kept going. 

Perserverence - climbing a tall mountain

Looking back, it was such a violent thing I did to myself, and today I try to be very mindful of using “push” when it comes to healing, personal exploration, or really anything in life. Do I really want to push myself? I would much rather think of it as a supportive nudge, and I’m trying my very best to not push myself to do things – even the things that I feel so much resistance towards, like scheduling a doctor's appointment or doing taxes. Not even these things I want to push myself to do. A nudge can be helpful, and yes, sometimes I need to step out of my comfort zone. I believe all of that can happen without pushing and forcing. This is not something I considered when I was in my early 20’s exploring a gratitude practice for the first time…

And I kept going and kept going.

I kept feeling shame and disgust, and it kept getting more and more intense. It got so overwhelming that I would write gratitudes through tears, after having cried for hours. 

I dreaded that journal and the commitment I had made to write a total of six things that I was grateful for every day. 

Person with head down in a book holding up a help sign.

What was happening for me, was that I thought I *should* be grateful for all these things that I was writing down, and yet seeing myself at that point in my life I felt like I was even more of a failure for not “making the most” out of my life. 

It felt like, “Look at everything that you do have,” and “What on earth is wrong with you, that you’re depressed and not doing anything with your life?” 

I wasn’t living my full life… I was wasting my time and life… I had so much to be grateful for, and yet I was miserable. And that very realization made me feel even worse than I did before I started the gratitude practice. This feeling was already there, and adding the gratitude practice to that lived experience was not at all supportive for me during that time. 

I did this for about one year, before allowing myself to stop. I had tried different formats, tried it at different times of the day, and that didn’t shift how the process made me feel.

And then I stopped-

And in all that time I never encountered anyone sharing about how letting go of a gratitude practice actually helped them! A part of me has felt like a failure for “giving up” on the gratitude practice. 

Person throwing papers in the air with arms up and back.

A few weeks ago I shared this with my therapist, and she actually celebrated me for having stopped the gratitude practice back then! You can imagine how confused I was when she first said this. 

Now looking back, I can acknowledge that it was a breakthrough for me to stop doing something that seemingly everyone else was doing and suggesting for me to do, because I noticed that it wasn’t the right thing for me at that time. It wasn’t even anything I “had” to do! It was something I chose to do because I thought it had to help me - it was working for them, so what was wrong with me that it was pushing me further into dread…!?

I wished that back then I had had someone tell me that it’s okay to stop doing something when it doesn’t feel good or okay. Just because others are doing it, or because they’re finding it helpful, doesn’t mean that I will have the same experience. And that is valid too!

Black letter board with the words, "shine your own light"

That’s why I decided to share this… because I would have loved an invitation to stop the gratitude practice, and I didn’t receive it back then, so if in sharing my experience I can offer you an invitation to let go, or stop doing something that seemingly everyone or everything around you is telling you to do (or it feels like everyone and everything is telling you to do something), I am more than honored to give you that invitation.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to a gratitude practice. This can apply to pretty much everything… The big lesson in this for me was to honor my own wisdom. 

I understand that some decisions in life may require more planning, consideration, and communication, so perhaps my share here can be mostly related to the things we choose to do because we think they will help us. Perhaps specifically around healing and finding a path toward experiencing peace, joy, and perhaps even pleasure in life…

My invitation for you today is to notice if you are doing something because someone else suggested it to you, or if you're doing something because the messages around made it sound promising, or if you’re doing something because there is a sense of, “they’re doing it, so I should be doing this” and to just notice whether that feels true for you. 

Vulva Collection Share Your Magic Unicorn T-Shirt

I also understand that certain things may require giving them a try first before being able to tell if something could feel good… so this is really an invitation to explore, to pay attention. 

I’ve recently come to a place where I ask myself: will this be uncomfortable and will it put me outside my comfort zone, or will this have me leaving my window of tolerance?

That distinction has helped me notice when I thought that a gentle nudge would actually be helpful. For me personally, some nudge-worthy things are: going on long walks in nature, meditating, and waking up at the same time every morning. Sometimes I’d rather sleep in, and on some days it’s totally okay to do that! And I know I feel better if I get up at the same time every morning, even if I experience resistance. So when I hear the alarm in the morning, I can nudge myself out of bed, because I know in the long run I will feel more energized and alive.

Sitting in bed meditating

I can also share that during guided self-pleasure practices I’ve often had to choose to not follow the instructions. At first, it felt like I was doing something wrong, that I wasn’t getting what I needed out of the session if I wasn’t following the instructions, and yet choosing to receive all of the instructions as invitations, and having to spend some time investigating if these instructions would be nudging me out of my comfort zone or have me leaving my window of tolerance, I’ve learned a lot about my boundaries and what safety feels like within my body! 

I have since then found a way to create a gratitude practice that feels supportive to me, and it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else!

I guess after all the gratitude practice did really shift something in me ;)

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