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How to Be Truly Thankful When You’re Just Not Feeling It

We all know we SHOULD be thankful for the good things that come into our lives.

And we pay lip service to the idea of being thankful for the bad things too: the losses, the obstacles, the challenges, the things that didn’t work out.

We understand, intellectually, that the benefit in these things may only be clear to us later, but that we should trust in God’s mercy and in the Divine Plan for our lives and be thankful for everything, NOW.

Easier said than done.

Take me, for instance. I’m writing a blog about thankfulness.

I’m making a conscious effort to be thankful 24 hours a day.

And yet there’s this screeching tape running over and over in my head, replaying all the things I actually DON’T feel thankful for.

What’s up with that?

Can you relate?

A wise teacher once told me that the first thing that happens when you try to make a change for the better, is that everything starts to get WORSE.

When you shine a light into the dark corners of the kitchen junk drawer, THAT’s when you notice the dust, and maybe some dead bugs.

If you have a dirty glass with mud caked on the bottom, and you start running water into it, what happens? All that caked mud comes to life and makes the whole glass look muddy and dirty.

What do most people do? They freak out and turn the water off. The mud settles back down into the bottom of the glass, and never gets cleaned.

It’s the same way with thankfulness. When we first set out to be thankful for everything, we are confronted with all the things we DON’T feel thankful for.

But don’t turn off that cleansing water, or that healing light.. Keep it flowing. Keep it shining.

Keep the thankfulness going even though it’s  showing you all those dark and ugly unloved and unloving places you don’t feel thankful for AT ALL.

Being thankful even for the worst things in our lives, is the best way to flush the pain out of our hearts and minds and souls.

We don’t want to ignore the painful things and pretend they aren’t there.

That just leads to a Pollyanna version of thankfulness that isn’t real, and can’t be sustained long term.

“Tell the nice man you’re sorry” (when you’re not). That doesn’t work.

“Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you” (when you’re looking at a plate full of unappetizing frozen carrots and peas). That’s not appealing.

“Say thank you for the nice present” (that you hate). That’s not a sincere thank you.

How can we say a sincere thank you for the things in our lives that we never wanted to begin with?

And how can we say that sincere thank you at the time these things happen?

Sure, looking back 20 years from now, it may be clear how everything that happened was truly for the best.

From the perspective of the future, we may look back on the painful events of today and deeply understand how we learned and grew from the experience, and TRULY be thankful.

But how can we be thankful NOW, when we don’t yet have that perspective, and don’t yet feel it?

The answer is, it’s not easy.

Sometimes, you just have to make a decision and do it.

“Proceed as if….”

This is where making a commitment to practice thankfulness, under all conditions, can really help us.

“Under all conditions” means, the conditions are irrelevant.

We’ve been given a gift: a package with something in it.

We may not LIKE what’s in the package.

It may be the very OPPOSITE of what we want.

But if we have made up our minds to be thankful for everything, we no longer need to pay attention to whether we LIKE what’s in the package, or not.

It’s an experience, situation or challenge that’s been given to us, and as such, we can be thankful that it holds benefit and lessons and blessings for us, even if we don’t yet know what those benefits and blessings are.

In fact, the difficult experiences in our lives are like presents that take longer to unwrap, unpack, put together, and figure out.

These are complicated gifts, whose benefit may only be apparent to us down the road.

What that means is that they are the more VALUABLE gifts.

The good they hold for us is not immediately apparent.

They won’t be consumed, enjoyed and used up quickly, like a five cent candy bar.

These are the gifts that leave us scratching our head, walking around looking at it from all sides like Steve Martin in his famous Saturday Night Live skit, asking ourselves:

“What IS that thing?”

We don’t KNOW what it is.

It isn’t what we wanted, or asked for, or expected.

We don’t like it, we don’t understand it, and we don’t want it.

But nevertheless, if we have faith that whatever it is, it holds benefits for us, we can be thankful for that.

And we can look forward to unwrapping the experience further, and finding out what those benefits are, down the road.