Have you ever suffered a huge loss or disappointment, only to have some well-meaning soul tell you, “one day, you will look back on this and realize it was the best thing that ever happened to you”?
I have. And I sort of wanted to hit them.
I know they meant well, and they were trying to help me see the silver lining, but in reality, I felt really sad and angry. I was in mourning and I wanted someone to acknowledge that—I wanted someone to say it was okay to feel really sad and angry. But I also felt guilty, because I couldn’t set aside the anger and sadness. If this situation was “so great,” why did I feel so bad? Everyone was saying that I should see this as the best thing ever. And I didn’t. And frankly, I don’t think that I should feel sad and angry when the “best thing ever” happens. In fact, I think the “best thing ever” should make me feel really really happy.
So now, on top of feeling sad and angry, I felt guilt and shame, because in that moment (which lasted more than just a moment), I couldn’t set aside my negative feelings and see the silver lining.
This was not an improvement.
One of the challenges with practicing a life of gratitude is that you think you should constantly wander through life chirpy and happy. When you have disappointments and setbacks—and when you feel sad or angry—you may start to doubt and wonder whether you are allowed to feel angry and sad.
Of course you are! You’re human.
What gratitude does is it helps us refocus. It doesn’t take away the hard emotions, but it does help us see the positive, even if only for a brief moment: the person who held the subway door open, the stranger that let you go first at the grocery register, that woman who smiled and said “good morning,” just because.
Things happen that make us feel sad or angry. And in those moments, what we can say is “this is a bad thing and it hurts. But I’m more than this.” Then, we can gather up all the good moments and hold them close, because being able to recognize and be grateful for the small good things will sustain you while you heal.