A lot of the time I hear myself saying to women- “there’s no wrong way to do that”, or, “there are no mistakes, just lessons”. I’m well aware that fear of getting stuff wrong can, and often does, prevent us from giving anything a go.
BUT. I’ve gotta speak up on this, because it’s a MASSIVE issue for me when something that could be the path to our liberation becomes yet another way to imprison us. So let’s get to it.
Here are some of the many professed benefits of having an attitude of gratitude. Better sleep, higher self esteem, greater resilience, deeper relationships, less sick, increased energy and productivity, less envious… I could go on. Who doesn’t want that stuff?
And so we are in our right minds to be drawn to this practice. But there are two ways the women I’m working with aren’t getting it. The first is just about practice and learning, the second is about internalised societal bullshit. Let’s tick off the easy one first.
Grateful is not something you ARE. Gratitude is something you cultivate, a habit you form, a neurological sequence you embed. So often I’m hearing from women- “I thought I was a really grateful (read ‘good’) person (read ‘girl’) but I’m finding it hard to feel grateful for much right now- I must be a terrible person, I feel dreadful about it, I know I SHOULD feel it more…”
You will struggle to FEEL grateful for anything, even the things you know you’re incredibly lucky to have, if you have no space for yourself. FEELING grateful requires us to slow down and appreciate, in the moment, our blessings. We can do it more easily when we are experienced. But to begin with, you are trying to literally CHANGE YOUR MIND. That’s a tough thing to do, and it requires commitment.
Knowing that you appreciate something is one thing. That warm fuzzy feeling in your heart, where it feels your chest may burst open, when hot tears spill down your cheeks- that’s a physiological shift that depends on a neurological event. Like an orgasm. And I don’t think you expect to be in permanent ecstasy, or judge yourself if you can’t get there whilst putting the tea on and replying to emails.
So hopefully that’s that cleared up, but to sum up- it requires time, space and repetition, and if you find it hard even then you’re not a bad person.
The second part. O.M.F.G. K.M.N. W.T.A.F. etc etc
“Maybe I SHOULD. JUST. be grateful for what I have. I should count myself lucky and stop wanting more. I should appreciate that many people are worse off than me and stop being so demanding. I should be satisfied with what I have. I shouldn’t be so UNGRATEFUL.” Or some version of this.
NO. No no no, no, no no, and NO.
What you’re really saying here is, maybe this is all I deserve. Maybe this is MORE than I deserve. Because the darker side of gratitude is this sense that you are lucky- the wider implication is that it was a lottery. You didn’t earn what you have, so it could easily be taken away if you look away. Best keep your attention on it at all times and so there’s no capacity for greater possibilities.
Do you know that women tend to count ‘good luck’ and ‘help from others’ as top reasons that they are successful? Do you know what men say? ‘Hard work’. i.e. they deserve it.
I very rarely hear men talk about how grateful they are to be well supported enough to continue their careers after becoming parents, or how grateful they are for being well compensated for the hours they work, or how lucky they were to be promoted. I hear this stuff from women all the time.
If we don’t get our heads round this following simple concept, we are fucked.
You can be grateful for what you have AND want more.
Wanting more does not make you ungrateful for what you have. And, in fact, NOT pursuing all that you desire that could be available to you is ungrateful, AND selfish as hell. Because we really need to change the narrative around women, their achievements, their receipt of pleasure, their enjoyment of freedom, and so on.
Those of us who have that bit more to be grateful for are responsible for clearing a path for our less privileged sisters today, and in the next generation.
It’s for US to break the rules about what women should be grateful for, satisfied with, and what we can be, do and have.
It’s for US to talk about the pay gap, even when we are personally well compensated. It’s for us to question why there are so few women in the room, or on the panel, or the list of whatever kind, even when we are one of them.
It’s for us to talk about period poverty even when we can afford cloth pads. It’s for US to demonstrate what living life on your own terms, embracing support, holding boundaries looks like.
It’s for us to become so radically abundant in as many areas of our lives as possible, that we normalise this for other women. We give women with less than us the confidence to ask for more, because they see us and they think, “hmmm, maybe I could then…”
And I’m not talking about money alone, although that’s part of it. Of course when we access more money, we channel it consciously to other female led, or family run businesses, or donate to women and children’s charities. I’m also talking respect, freedom, space, being seen and heard, joy, peace, ALL of the good things.
It’s “I’m grateful for what I have, AND so I claim more for myself, AND I demand more for her too. Because we all deserve more.”