“Forgiveness becomes easier when love means more to you than anything else.” ~Robert Holden~
Gratitude has been offered as a “metastrategy” by many positive psychologists and as an antidote to the plague of negative emotions which sweep though us, as a seemingly, natural part of the human condition.
Prominent teachers of happiness praise the benefits of gratitude, as the research bears out what the wisdom teachers and grandmothers have known and practiced for millennia.
In the last few years, the desire for true happiness has grown and is becoming the new marker of success. Happiness is no longer thought of as an accidental momentary passing emotion: “a pleasant emotion with no evolutionary value,” as it was described, not so long ago, in psychology classes.
As happiness gained new prominence in academia, gratitude’s emerged as the number one activity and hope for experiencing sustainable joy.
The reasons for gratitude’s exalted state as a means of increasing happiness are well founded.
There are so many ways in which being grateful is an antidote to negative emotions like bolstering self-worth or promoting positive life experiences, or that you can’t hold onto any negative emotions while being grateful. It’s hard to believe there could be a downside to the practice.
A Cautionary Tale
There is a cautionary tale to be told, however.
Tim Brownson, life coach and creator of “A Daring Adventure,” wrote a “guest post” on Britt Reints wonderful blog “in Pursuit of Happiness,” warning of gratitude’s “dark side”(phew, that was a long way to go but they really deserve attribution.)
Tim pointed out that, “There’s a dark side to the gratitude movement though and one that few people in the industry seem willing or able to recognize, and it’s how gratitude can often give rise to guilt and self-recrimination.”
All of a sudden people are fearful of admitting they aren’t satisfied with what they have. They feel like there’s something wrong with them if they can’t look on the bright side, put a smile on their face and pretend everything is awesome even when their life isn’t anything like as they want it to be.”
This “guilt trip” is sometimes brought to us by the self-help movement. Not so much by intention, I think, as by omission and an enthusiasm for the power and possibilities of the gratitude practice.
“Faking it until you make it” may be a game plan that works in other pursuits, however, as Tim points out, faking gratitude “doesn’t work like that, you cannot fake gratitude. If you despise your job, then being grateful isn’t the antidote, getting a new job is. If you don’t love your husband, should you really feel the need to be grateful just because you have one and a friend doesn’t? Of course not.”
“In fact trying to be grateful in the face of life sucking can exacerbate the situation because it creates cognitive dissonance.”
Experiencing “cognitive dissonance” is another way of saying you feel out of alignment or unauthentic. It’s this experience, of the associated emotions, which creates feelings of unworthiness.
“And if you have no meaning, no purpose, a low self-esteem and don’t believe in yourself then no amount of gratitude will make you genuinely and lastingly happy,” continues Tim.
Tim is quick to add that he’s “…NOT saying don’t be grateful, not at all. In fact do practice gratitude for those things you are genuinely appreciative of…”
The question arises, “If life sometimes sucks, and because of that no amount of gratitude will change how I really feel,” then what will?
If genuine gratitude just doesn’t seem possible at this moment, try forgiveness.
Why forgiveness? I mean, how’s forgiveness going to help you get a new job or get rid of a bad husband?
Once again research corroborates the guidance of the wisdom traditions. There are plenty of good reasons we should forgive those who have offended, wounded or victimized us; even when the offender is us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean necessarily restoring a relationship with the offender (unless it’s you) and it most certainly isn’t excusing or condoning an inexcusable act or wounding behavior.
It is important to keep in mind that you do not forgive to be “nice” or because it’s the “right thing to do,” and it isn’t about repressing your emotions or keeping quiet about your resentments, your forgiveness is something you do for yourself.
Setting aside the tough questions about justice and morality, in which intelligent people will disagree about which acts may be deemed “unforgivable;” forgiveness may be the best first step to your happiness and freedom.
There are many wonderful strategies that you can employ to take advantage of the power of forgiveness, but the question was, “how’s forgiveness going to help you get a new job or get rid of a bad husband,” not how do you do it.
Addressing the Why before the How
The answer is found in the experience of authenticity.
It’s true that the “active” antidote is still in getting the new job or admitting that you are in a toxic relationship, but when you forgive you are making a choice be whole (excepting yourself warts and all,) meaning that you honor your truth; whatever that is for you at the time.
When you practice real forgiveness you are practicing self-love and self-acceptance and they are the antidote to “cognitive dissonance” or unworthiness.
Forgiveness is the path to greater self-worth, a place of personal power, a doorway to new perceptions where you can change your mind about yourself.
Your life experience may “suck” right now and not allow you to genuinely feel gratitude in this moment so rather than add to your suffering try a different path.
I don’t want to be misleading or solipsistic, actually practicing forgiveness is one of the most challenging practices you can take on. It’s for that reason, I believe, it is so powerful.
In another article I’ll be taking up the challenge offering you some practices which have the potential to greatly alter your life experience.
Forgiveness, especially of yourself, opens you to greater self-esteem, to discovering purpose and meaning in your life, to help you see choices which serve you and help you create your path to genuine gratitude.