I don't want to sound ungrateful, but I have a complicated relationship with gratitude. Gratitude follows patterns in my relationships to other practices which I imagine others to be easily and faithfully, um, practicing. I feel like I must be the only one that constantly falls off the metaphoric wagon, or mat, or meditation cushion, or in this case gratitude journal. But while I've succeeded at practicing meditation, movement, music or journaling for stretches at a time, gratitude has been the most difficult practice for me to establish. I just can't seem to come to an easy relationship with gratitude practice.
A look at my journal will show maybe a string of seven days with three gratitude entries each day, then a large gap, with nothing except maybe a weird dream I had.
The evidence suggests my relationship with practicing gratitude may be more casual than I wish it would be. But maybe that's because I feel I have to do all the work here. I have to go through the day noticing things I can write notes of thanks about later. But where is the payoff? I pay attention to small and large things for which I can express gratitude, while the pen and journal are blissfully free to ignore anything I've done for them lately. Okay, maybe that's ridiculous.
Writing down the things I'm grateful for doesn't seem to do much for me. When I do have occasions to notice and write down what I can be thankful for, I do indeed have many, many things to be thankful for. Yet somehow, in moments when I am wanting to feel not completely lost, reading these lists hardly seems to help me feel better. Instead, I feel a yucky guilt for failing – how can I have such a wonderful life with all these things to be thankful for and still feel down, discouraged, or frustrated?
Is there a chance anybody else feels this way? Should I be doing something different? Would this change if I had a thousand gratitude entries instead of one hundred? Maybe you can change my mind about gratitude journaling. What does keeping a gratitude journal do for you?
Helen Yee is an improvising violinist, multi-instrumentalist and composer. Currently violinist for the eclectic string trio, Trio Tritticali she also performs on yangqin with Music From China. She considers the practice of improvisation in all its forms a profound teacher in art and in life.