Expectations on Gratitude

I am sometimes aware of deep, spontaneous pockets of gratitude for my life.

Possibly because I have lived extended periods of time not feeling grateful to be alive, I am so overcome when the gratitude rises up and takes over from the inside. It always feels like a miracle. I don’t ever expect it, but when it happens I am so relieved and genuinely experience gratitude for feeling grateful.

A huge gift, I believe, is continuing to learn to be able to hold several seemingly conflicting truths in my heart at the same time. It’s possible for me to be grateful even on a day when hard, painful things are happening. Sometimes the smallest details provide a wave of relief and gratitude. A smile, a few kinds words remembered, thinking about hugging a loved one, the warmth from a cup of tea, the sight of a beautiful bird, even a busy spider going about her mission building and maintaining her web.

Anytime I strive or push too hard for gratitude, I feel my own push back. It feels canned, forced, or stale like the contents of some file labeled “Things I Should Be Grateful For.” For me, there isn’t a “should be” in gratitude. If there is, then I think it’s something else. Guilt also has no place in my definition of gratitude. It’s the same with having expectations for other people to be grateful for what I offer them, do for them or desire in return. Whether the expectation is on me or I’m placing it on someone else, I think we all know how giving and receiving under expectation feels.

My expectations on gratitude dull and dim the sensation. It’s one reason why I think that holidays can be challenging because of the expectations we put on ourselves and others to have a certain feeling or experience because of a date on the calendar. I love the intention of sharing a meal with family, friends and loved ones and reflecting on ways to express to each other how much we cherish their presence in our lives and how dear they are to us. I just don’t feel good about the expectation of it.

I might feel grateful to be able to be in a bad mood on a holiday and not beat myself up about it or try to force myself into a different experience. Anytime that voice comes in my head telling me to “Get over it. Pull yourself together and get with the program. Put on a happy face and smile.” etc. I know that is not coming from a place inside me that is capable to sitting in discomfort or allowing my feelings to have their moments, run their course or have an equally valid presence.

Rejecting the feeling parts of myself can lead to rejecting the feeling parts of others and that’s not what I want to do with my life in any way, shape or form. Sometimes it works out that joy and gratitude line up with the days we set aside to celebrate and experience them. Sometimes the hypocrisy of our national days of celebration and displays of our “freedom,” Thanksgiving and celebrating baby Jesus feel harsh, cruel and like they are specifically designed to spit in the face of all those that don’t fit neatly into such holidays, experience them as reminders of who and what they’ve lost, how they’ve been mistreated and how these same happy, celebrating people just do not see or acknowledge what they’ve been through and continue to endure.

I don’t advocate for anyone to dim their light or their celebration. Maybe we will be able to find ways to expand it to include and accommodate for those that may be having feelings anywhere along the spectrum from devastated to overjoyed. We all get to move back and forth along this spectrum over the course of our lives and the highs or depths are not going to be the same for everyone.

It feels like a great time of year to try to have the utmost compassion for ourselves and for those inside and outside of our communities. When I bring to mind thoughts that fuel my fire, stir a deep rage inside me and make me squint my eyes with dismay, it feels a certain way. There is anger, power, energy, uncertainty, and fear of harming others in my passion. There is much in the world that legitimately elicits this response. Then I think of a recent act of kindness, the warmth of a loved on, the goodness and earnestness of so many people I know and their bravery at being vulnerable, authentic and allowing themselves to be loved in their imperfectness. That melts my heart every time. I try not to push myself only into positive states because life is not a one note experience and exalting certain feelings and experiences over others doesn’t lead to more truth or happiness in my experience.

There’s a way where I participate often in wishing people a Happy (Birthday, Thanksgiving, New Years, Anniversary…you name it) and it is truly my intention for them to have a day or year filled with happiness because I want for them to feel good, to feel my love and care in an extended visceral way. What I want for them and what will actually happen may be so very different though, I can’t know or predict. I’ve received counsel not to pray for outcomes for other people and that feels right to me in my bones, though sometimes I can’t help it. I never want my happy wishes to feel like pressure to be happy if that isn’t their true experience. And I also don’t want the briefness of the blessing to feel rote or insincere. I usually trust that this person I am wishing my blessings upon knows that I adore them, want the absolute best for them and am here to be with them in hard times and in despair with no requirement to be happy at all. Sometimes I realize that I do not take enough time to express the things in my heart that don’t fall naturally into conversation or text messages. I always mean to take this time for heart expressions, but I know I be better about taking the risk, feeling the vulnerability that I will embarrass myself by expressing my feelings awkwardly or that they won’t be returned. Often I do take the courage and say how I truly feel and often it goes very well.

I am genuinely grateful to have this time to be able to put into words a discomfort and awkwardness that I’ve felt and noticed for a long time around gratitude, expectations and feelings.


  1. Lucinda Newcomb on November 21, 2018 at 5:29 am

    This is exquisite writing. I love this.

  2. Dawn on November 28, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for your words. Wondering how you happened to include the picture of the Buffalo?
    Do you know of Derrick Jensen? He says “In the time after, the buffalo come home.” I live on the east coast of USA, not known for having buffalo any longer and yet, I just encountered nine (9) buffalo last week.

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