(Every Friday we will feature a guest author. This week’s author is Tara Acquesta.)
The 5 Stages of Gratitude in Times of Grief
Gratitude (def.) -the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
On Monday, November 7th, I had the honor of being asked if I would like to write an article for CYLF. I was thrilled. Not only was it an opportunity for me to write, but it would be on my favorite subject- gratitude. I couldn’t wait to get started and I, immediately, started to think of all the themes I could incorporate. How grateful I was to live in a country that would be celebrating its first woman president; so thankful to have shown the world and ourselves that we were not bullies and did not support Trump’s vision of America. And then, the election results streamed in across my computer screen. Trump had won the election. It’s fair to say, without being dramatic, that everything stopped for me. Time seemed to slow down and a tightening began to rise from my stomach into my throat. My mind was not registering it as reality. Like a skipping record I heard, “What’s happening? What’s happening? This wasn’t supposed to happen. How did this happen?” And only after a sleepless night of watching the news, receiving horror stricken phone calls from friends/family and reading reactions on social media did it sink in. And it sunk in deep… into that dark, sensitive part of your heart where you shove feelings of shame and worthlessness. The overwhelming realization that not only did Trump not value me or anything I believe in, but neither did half of my country.
And this is the backdrop I need to set for you, so that you can understand where my daily gratitude practice took me this week; through the 5 stages of grief and into what I see as the 5 stages of gratitude. Hopefully, it can help you when gratitude is hard and everything seems to go wrong.
The 5 Stages of Gratitude:
1. Denial & Isolation – (There is nothing to be grateful for in my life.)
• Gratitude is often an easy practice when you are happy, but much more difficult when you are in pain. When you are hurt deeply, whether it’s emotionally or physically, it’s easy to slip into a pessimistic mood. You don’t believe other people’s joy and you feel alone in your outlook. You deny the silver linings that may be present and reject any encouragement towards positivity. During this stage it is imperative to start small. Start with seemingly basic things in your life. If you can’t find three things to be grateful for, on a particular day, at least name one. It may seem inconsequential at the time, but small steps take you far distances over time.
2. Anger – (My kindness is seldom returned and people mistake it for weakness.)
• Being grateful and appreciative isn’t the only part of gratitude. You must also practice kindness. You want to endeavor to always return a person’s kindness towards you. You may not realize how hard it was for them to extend the effort. In our culture, kindness is often seen as vulnerability… and vulnerability, in turn, seen as a weakness. Survival, in the natural world, often depends upon being perceived as strong. So, it’s not shocking to have your kindness returned with indifference or an air of entitlement. Do not let the fear of being taken advantage of stop you from being vulnerable and kind. It’s a strength and helps you to understand others different from you, under anger.
3. Bargaining – (If I am a thankful person, only good things should happen.)
• Practicing gratitude is not magic. You are cultivating a way of looking at life and life is, if nothing else, unpredictable. It is not a safety measure against bad things happening and shouldn’t be used as a tool to get something in return. It’s best to let life flow, with its natural waves that lift you up and let you fall. This is where growth happens and emphasizes why you should appreciate every second. Just appreciate, give thanks and return when you can. That’s it.
4. Depression – (What’s the point of practicing gratitude anyway? Why show appreciation?)
• So, why are we even trying to cultivate gratitude in our lives? I can’t speak for everyone but I have found many benefits from practicing a grateful spirit. My thoughts feel organized. I rarely take things, people or experiences for granted. It helps me to be humble and keep my ego in check. But more than these things, I just feel happier about my life. Even in dark times I can still find some positivity. I hope you can, too.
5. Acceptance – (I can only control one thing in my life… and that’s the way I think.)
• Gratitude, in summary, comes down to one point. In a world with millions of people, and many things that are out of your control, the only thing that you truly have control over is the way you think. You can decide to focus on the negative thoughts and bad feelings or you can shine a light on the big and small things that make your unique life a miracle. Love yourself by giving thanks. Appreciate the things about yourself that you wish others would. And finally, be kind to yourself if you struggle with negative thoughts. It’s normal and natural. It’s all a part of the gratitude practice and life.