Haha As I wrote that title (actually, the original title, “Are You Afraid of Gratitude”), I totally started thinking about the show I used to be obsessed with as a kid, Are You Afraid of the Dark? Anybody else watch that? I always loved when they were about ghosts; those were the creepiest episodes.
Back to the actual title. Is it possible to be afraid of feeling grateful? Happiness? Contentment? Joy? It sounds absurd, but I spent years shrinking away from expressing it beyond a “thank you” for a gift or a random act of kindness. I couldn’t allow myself to be as immersed in those positive feelings for everything in my life as I deserved to be (or as they deserved to be acknowledged). Sounds absolutely ridiculous, doesn’t it?
I did admit to myself that I was lucky to have a loving family, a place to live, a job, etc, since I’m not a total heathen, but I never felt that sense of gratefulness and contentment that’s like sinking down into a well-worn recliner with a bowl of Heavenly Hash ice cream, the remote, and a sigh after a long, hard, productive day. If I got a glimpse of that, I surely didn’t put it into words for other people to hear. There was always a piece of me that would hang back with a healthy dose of cynicism or criticism, for protection. If I wasn’t totally happy with something, it would be no big deal if it went away, right?
I could always find fault in whatever I had or wherever I was, and I strived toward something more (not necessarily bigger and better, but more my style, more comfortable, something different). Because if what I had in that moment wasn’t good enough, I could always go up and things could be even better. If I felt ecstatic, full, content, and like nothing could be better, I had a long way to fall and a lot to lose, and by acknowledging the awesomeness I had, I was saying, “This is good enough. I can stop here.” Then there would be nowhere to go but down.
I was trying to outsmart life, God, the universe, karma, destiny, reality…all the things, to avoid being crushed, disappointed, or embarrassed. As if something so little (a human) has that kind of power. Not to mention there was a glaring flaw in logic: that you can’t be happy and grateful where you are while aiming for the next level. That’s just not true.
The thing is, I have two (on a list of many!) flaws that, up until the last few years when I really started picking myself apart more and analyzing my mind, would put a wall up between me and that big-eyed, melting-heart, hands-clasped, sappy, cartoonish feeling of overwhelming gratitude/joy for the way things were in the moment: I’m a control freak at heart (I try to hide it and keep that part of myself gagged and bound in a corner most of the time) and I’m just a smidge superstitious (or maybe the word is cautious or wary).
The Fear of Gratitude
You hear it everywhere nowadays in self-help books, podcasts, and memes passed around on Instagram. Practice gratitude. Be thankful. Wake up and be glad you made it this far. It sounds great unless you’re wondering when the other shoe is going to drop and how bad it’s going to be when it does.
If you admit that you are overjoyed about your life, do you feel like you’re jinxing it? Maybe if you hold out a little longer and wish things were slightly different (or at least tell yourself that’s what you believe), nothing will be so grand that it has to be balanced with tragedy, or in the very least, a stubbed toe. Secretly, even though you won’t even allow the thoughts to form so you can admit it to yourself, you may be glad about how things are. You just take them with a side of uneasiness.
Is this simply anxiety in another form? I don’t know. I think if it is, it was one of the easiest forms to train out of myself once I took some of the emotion out and replaced it with logic and faith. If it’s just anxiety, I can’t be the only one who has wasted way too much time thinking like this, being as anxiety seems to be the plague of modern day existence. So maybe my anxiety about publishing this post (ha, but really, I’ve been sitting on this draft for a long time, unsure if I’d ever post it) is pointless and it’ll help someone else.
The truth is, we can’t control everything. To embrace that lack of control with faith and become flexible gives us more strength than attempting to micromanage the world ever will (also, people will like you better, heh). Just go ahead and shout from the rooftops how much you and your life rock right now. You’ll feel better. You’ll feel good. And free.
Avoiding gratitude for the way things are doesn’t protect us from devastation; it just robs us of joy and casts a shadow over our lives. Every good time and simple, beautiful moment deserves to be celebrated openly and without the fear that by being overcome with gratitude, contentment, and joy, you’re inviting something negative in to deal you a swift blow to the backside to even things out. How high you let your joy take you doesn’t determine how swiftly your lows will come or how low they will be. But even the lows, when they do show up, will come with opportunities to learn and grow.
Fully appreciating what you already have–comfort, relationships, specific moments or strings of moments, even the material possessions or learning opportunities–gives you that feeling of freedom you probably got as a kid when your mom or dad would push you so high on the swing, you’d swear you were going to flip over the top (and turn inside-out in the process, maybe, if you’d heard the legend), but instead you just froze there in the dappled sunlight feeling the chain go a little slack. You were weightless and flying for that snapshot second, and it was amazing. Knowing you couldn’t stay there forever didn’t take away from the giddiness you felt, did it? When you’re grateful for things as they are, you can suspend that weightless moment for a whole lot longer than it lasted in the swing, and the cool thing is, you can still go higher. Revel in that peaceful, blissful feeling as long as you can and know that you are safe, and you are loved.
Do you ever prevent yourself from feeling grateful, content, happy, and/or full of joy because you’re afraid of what might come around to balance it out?