Cultivating gratitude but avoiding its shadow side

Neuroscience research has shown that cultivating the practice of gratitude, such as having a daily practice of acknowledging what we are grateful for, can be very beneficial for increasing our sense of fulfillment in our life. Just taking time to be aware of our gratitude, even if it’s simply being grateful for our sight, our breathing, our ability to be alive in this moment.These days, I often give thanks for being inside my warm cozy bedroom, while I look out the window at the cold wintry weather. Taking a few moments each day to stop, quiet the chatter in our minds, and just be aware of our gratitude for what we have in this moment, for the many blessings that we often take for granted. I have been taught by my spiritual teachers that just this practice of gratitude alone can change our lives and bring us more peace and joy and spaciousness to our lives.

However, I want to acknowledge that there is a shadow side to the gratitude practice. Just because you practice gratitude does not mean that you should repress negative emotions, unpleasant feelings and pain. No matter how grateful you are, there will always be experiences of grief, anger, and fear, and sometimes, these feelings will be so overwhelming that they overpower all other feelings you have. And that is okay.

You can be grateful for what you have and also angry or sad or fearful at the same time. Life is a full experience of BOTH light and dark. And pretending that only the light matters, that the dark should be ignored or not acknowledged, is not beneficial to your wholeness.

For a long time, I used to have a smile on my face almost all the time,in public. No matter what pain I was experiencing, no matter what challenges I was struggling with, I would share those pain and challenges with others while wearing the mask of a smile and end with, “But I’m so grateful for all these challenges that help me grow.”

Okay…so…while yes, challenges help us grow, and it is beneficial to acknowledge that, it is also important to not be afraid to explicitly feel and express the negative and dark emotions too. Embrace the fullness and richness of life – both the positive and the negative. That is one of my life goals for 2022. I will talk about others in future posts.   

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