Gratitude: Life Tool, not Life Rule
This weekend I went to my 20th high school reunion. While chatting I observed 2 very obviously close friends, who hadn't seen each other in a long time, engage in a very tragic and beautiful argument. It was heated, with tears, and pointed fingers. Their passion was so raw.
The exchange went something like this:
R: It's not ME! He just doesn't want to marry me! It's HIM! I can't make him...You don't understand!
M: How could you say I don't understand?!
R: You don't get it you aren't here and I couldn't tell you!
M: I call you all the time.
R: But when I see you calling I can't pick up, because then I'd have to tell you the truth! That it's not all ok. That I'm not fine! So I don't pick up. Because you don't deserve to have to listen to that. You're life is so perfect!
M: My life is NOT perfect! How could you say that? You don't know what I'm going through, or what my life has been like?! You think this is perfect?! I have to wear my pain on the outside!
R: You're beautiful and you have the perfect husband and kids and you live in a great place!
M: But I have such severe anxiety that I can't even go into CVS without worrying that I might upset the cashier.
R: But I don't know what to do with my life and I feel like it's falling apart!
Then with their tears and their emotions at an all time high they fell into each others arms.
I can guess what they were feeling. It wasn't so much that they didn't feel understood by the other, it was that they seemed to be upset that their friend hadn't been able to share their true life with them, and the anguish of not feeling comfortable enough to share their own life with their friend. For me it feels like this is a direct result of the social media mask we all wear.
I had been myself, for years observing from afar all of these people, thinking how literally magical all of their lives seemed! Beautiful pictures of kids on the beach or in dance competitions or karate classes. Every once in a while there would be a quote on a nice background like, “Once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” Always followed by a selfie post about how great their husband is.
And yet here we were, angry, sad, hurt, and clinging to our friends whom we didn't know were in pain, wishing we could have been there for them when they were hurting.
How do we fix this hurt?
I'm not exactly sure, but I have this thought that maybe we don't need to be holding gratitude as a rule in our life, as if our lives are full of nothing but things we're grateful for. Maybe we could use gratitude as a tool within our lives to remind us that not all is lost.
We also, maybe, hold a little shame about our true life experiences. Maybe we're embarrassed to show our pain. Maybe it's impression management. Or maybe it's that we feel as though our feelings would be a burden on our friends. Any of these reasons result in emotional bypassing and ultimately hurt us.
Society is constantly feeding us the message that happy experiences are associated with material successes like wealth, career advancement, marriage, kids, and a house. These experiences are commonly presented as the most valuable aspects of our lives. However, in reality we all face many adversities. Some are small and are easily overcome, but even those we don't overcome, the hard heart breaking stuff, has value. It all adds more to our character to make our lives even more meaningful.
Whatever it might be that motivates us to put on a mask and hide behind gratitude and blessings, this exchange drove home the simple truth that we matter. Our lives, our true lives, our nitty gritty raw emotional life experiences have value. And yes, maybe we don't share every detail over social media, but maybe we pick up the phone when a friend calls. Or text a friend when we're in pain, or even if life is seeming so dull and we need a reminder of that time back when that thing happened at that place with what's his face!
We are not a burden. Our lives have value. Whatever that life is bringing to the table, it matters. We are enough.
"When I said I'll take it, I meant as is."