Gratitude is vital, but can’t be imposed from the outside

By the end of the day, I was almost singing. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It was so good that I return to the memory of it from time to time, and come away refreshed, because I saw so clearly the truth of how much goodness and mercy surrounded me on that day and every day. Maybe I’ll even try it again someday!

But I guarantee you that it would not have worked if it had been foisted upon me by someone who thought I was defective because I thought my hard life was hard. The holiest people I know are strict with themselves, but merciful and sympathetic to others.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

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3 thoughts on “Gratitude is vital, but can’t be imposed from the outside”

  1. Oh Simcha, I see those memes and wonder why I get irritated. You explained for me why. I couldn’t put my finger on the reason, you nailed it

    I feel like it reduces heartache and need to a selfish level. I have such deep and painful depression sometimes and hearing and seeing all these superficial, quaint thankfulness demonstrations makes me feel worse, not encouraged.

  2. A few years ago, for Lent, I tried thanking God for something specific 25 times a day. (Just “thank you, God” or “thank you, God, for today” wasn’t specific enough–it had to be “thank you, God, that traffic was good” or “thank you, God, for this coffee I’m drinking”). Like you, I found that it made me wonderfully happy, and I’d like to do it for another Lent or Advent. But the most lasting lesson that I took from it wasn’t about gratitude or joy; it was about presumption. There were a few times when I would thank God for something that was supposed to happen that day, but that hadn’t happened yet (“Thank you, God, that it’s date night! Thank you, God, that there’s an assembly today so I get an extra free period!”). If it happened, hunky dory. But if my husband got sick and couldn’t do date night, or if the assembly was canceled, I’d be a seething ball of resentment because, by cracky, I’d already thanked God for that thing! I was entitled to it! God owed me–wait, of course he didn’t.

    I would have felt just as disappointed and resentful if I hadn’t thanked God first–Screwtape had a whole letter about how when we anticipate something, we think it’s owed to us. But thanking God first, then getting mad when he didn’t deliver the goods, was explicitly stating the attitude that I would have carried with me anyway–feeling happy and grateful that I was going to get this thing and angry when I lost a thing that I’d never had in the first place. And explicitly stating it showed me how silly it was.

  3. Yeah, the memes are truly annoying. I am close to someone who has become something of a self help exercise/dance guru. It’s a bit new age-y too– it sometimes sets my teeth on edge. Every day on Instagram I’m encouraged to be strong and beautiful and to let my inner -wild-dancing-fairy out. She quotes Buddha, and Ghandi, feministas…does the witchy Halloween stuff which is uhhhhhhh sort of dark, no?–one of her dancers is an *actual witch* with a cauldron and the whole nine yards with her own memes advertising self help empowerment books. (She once held a workshop on how to write well, while naked.) When I see memes about light and grace and beauty, knowing the person who posted it is a messy person, with an appallingly cluttered house, –who won’t clean up after her four dogs, dark thoughts bubble up.

    On Thanksgiving, I sat and stared in wonder at the Botox the Restalayne, extensions and whatnot. Several words crossed my mind. I suppressed my need to discuss it with my husband, but after a week, blurted it out –out of the blue, and off topic to what we were watching on TV. He’d obviously been biting his tongue too, so we got our OMGs out together, and then fell silent.

    “I don’t blame her” my husband said.
    “Me neither, I get it.”
    “She’s hustling,– and putting food on her table.”
    “Yep, who could blame her.”
    “I heard her tell Steve she’s making a ton of money.”
    “Yeah, good for her–she’s nobody’s victim–but her whole face *does* look stung by a bee.”
    “yeah. weird.”
    “It’s a bit culty wouldn’t you say?”
    He ended the conversation with a squeamish shrug and silence.

    It is confusing on different levels, but criticizing others DOES leave an off taste in the mouth. What’s fascinating is to observe how much her (very faithful) band of dancers have latched on to her as a strong, Mother/Sister figure–they seem to thrive on her words of light, levity and encouragement…but…I don’t really know what to make of it all. The word snake oil sometimes comes to mind when my buttons get really pushed. They’re having giddy fun now, but you can’t beat off the advancing march of age forever, and *then* what?–Babes, shaking it with walkers? Oh well. Mea culpa–where it applies.

    Anyway,on the brighter side of things, while memes are cheap, I think talking to people about things they should be grateful for *works*. I can tell it lifts the spirits of my children when I list off their best qualities when they’re down. The dark voice/accuser tells us everything is a big pile of poop when we’re down.

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