Gratitude should be given, not just for the positive, but for negative, too.
I believe we make an assumption that gratitude is for things like:
- Being saved from a burning building
- Someone making you a cup of coffee when you least expected it
- A gift
- An act of goodwill
The truth is, those things are worthy of “thank you” and “I appreciate it.” They deserve that natural and reasonable response of gratitude.
However, we are less inclined to see that a bad thing can happen, that someone can do bad things to you, and they may also be deserving of gratitude. This is not a banal platitude that “everything has a silver lining.” No, bad things happen, people do bad things, and that flat out sucks. Yet, we may still need to find gratitude for this because it may be what opens your eyes. For example:
- A close co-worker stabs you in the back and claims it was just a “professional misunderstanding”
- A good friend lies to you and says it was for your own protection
- A cherished lover betrays you and refuses to take responsibility
- A parent manipulates you and tells you it was for your own good
In those circumstances, the first instinct is often an attempt to see their side of it. Real friends, the good ones, will try to lift the veil for you, but it won’t work. Even a therapist may ask smart, pointed questions, but you will still bullheadedly try to see “the brighter side.”
Enter: vacillation. You will go back and forth between that brighter side and the angry side, from self-righteousness to victimhood, from blaming to self-abnegation… And then, one day, it will stop.
A word may be said at the right time. A specific line in a book will speak to you. A plot line will play out on a television show that you are watching. A scene will happen in a movie. Or a dream that you are having will startle you awake and the veil will be yanked off. The scales will fall from your eyes. You. Will. See!
And then, in that moment, then you may give thanks:
- Thank you for stabbing me in the back; now I know this was not the right place for me if that sort of “professional misunderstanding” gets accepted as a norm
- Thank you for lying to me; now I know what you really think about me and how much respect that you have, rather, how much respect you lack for me
- Thank you for betraying me and then refusing to own it; you are right: I do deserve better and better is not about what’s on paper, it is about being with someone who truly values me and is an adult about it
- Thank you for manipulating me and making it clear that you value your own ideas over my actual personhood; now I know where I really stand with you and what I have to do next
Gratitude is not just for the good things. It is also for the bad because if we learn those lessons well, even if it hurts, even if it is not fair, even if [fill in the blank], we learn them well. We should appreciate those experiences because that is how we get better.
It sucks to say this, but sometimes the bad can help us grow more. It can help us shed those old skins, to peel them off with acid and sharp knives, and to step out and away from bad patterns of thought and behavior. Bad things can help guide us to the good, if we let it, and we should give thanks even as we shake our heads.
To all my life combatants: thank you for your grand attempts to ruin me. I am grateful for the lessons.