With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about gratitude a lot. In the yoga world we’re bombarded with quotes of gratitude and challenges to be more grateful. But sometimes I struggle with gratitude because it feels like a tradeoff. If I’m grateful, I’m saying that I did not necessarily deserve a certain outcome. If I didn’t deserve a certain outcome, shouldn’t I feel guilty, not grateful?
These thoughts led me down a path of exploring gratitude and why we all insist that it’s important. Why would something that makes me feel unworthy be a good thing?
When we are grateful, three major themes are present:
- There is good in the world.
- You have support.
- You aren’t completely in control of what happens to you.
There is good in the world. Obviously, this is a good thing. If we never stopped to recognize that there is good around us it would be a challenge to find happiness in life. We would constantly have to be our own source of positivity. And let’s face it, there are lots of days when I rely on a story of kindness that I see on social media or a nice glass of red wine to keep my spirits up.
You have support. Again, this is good! For mental, physical, and emotional reasons, we all need support. We are social beings after all. If we believed we had to always support ourselves we’d be incredibly overwhelmed. We’d also believe that everyone else was only looking out for themselves. The world would be a dark, scary, and highly competitive place. There’d be no room for co-existence and no need for social skills.
You aren’t completely in control of what happens to you. And here’s the kicker. Gratitude is an attitude that rejects the idea of deserving what we get. It’s a bit of a catch 22. On one hand we all want it to be true that good people receive the good in life and bad people receive the bad. But on the other hand, we all know that’s not how it works. Therefore, whatever we “deserve” is irrelevant. So we can take this truth a few different ways. We can think about how we don’t deserve something (good or bad) and be consumed by it. We can let it get in the way of progress, give us a feeling of guilt or indebtedness, or we can just accept it and focus on what we can control; the present moment.
When it comes to feeling deserving, I generally feel like I get way more than I deserve. This acknowledgment is usually accompanied by feelings of guilt or indebtedness. I can think of numerous people right now that I feel indebted to because they’ve done so much for me and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to “pay back” their kindness.
But of course there’s a flip-side to this. The most prominent example in my life that I can think of is female-themed. I’ve noted on several occasions that my gender plays a role in keeping me from, or putting me in, outcomes I don’t deserve or want. I say it’s the most prominent because when I am discounted strictly because I am female, there isn’t an ounce in me that believes I deserve it. But I do believe that it happens because I’ve experienced it.
I bring up both sides of the coin to show why whatever we think we deserve is irrelevant. If we are getting more than we deserve, assuming we aren’t initiating the action of taking more than we deserve, then outside forces are investing in us. People are investing in us. The best thing we can do for that type of investment is to put it to good use! Let it fuel you to be the best person you can be. And likewise, if we’re getting less than we deserve, let that fuel you to make the playing field more even for yourself or others.
When we give ourselves time to recognize good things that happen to us we are naturally more positive. It increases our social skills because we believe that good is around us and we can benefit from it. It keeps us humble which contributes to our social skills and helps us create better relationships with others.
Just because we don’t always deserve what we get, there is no room for guilt or indebtedness in gratitude—and don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. Gratitude is accepting your present situation and acknowledging what is good about it. That’s it. This holiday season be grateful and guiltless. Then watch the positive benefits of that pure gratitude spread. Witness for yourself why gratitude is good.