I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice. It's November 25, 2021, and today's topic is the three biggest mistakes you might be making in your gratitude practice. Are you ready to grow your soul?
It’s Thanksgiving here in the US, and last year I was less than a month into doing the podcast so I didn’t really want to go with something as cliche as gratitude for the episode. But today I’m going to do it because I think there’s quite a lot of ways that the idea and practice of gratitude gets kind of twisted up and not done with as much intention and to as much effect as it could be. Which I learned because it wasn’t always part of my own practice to the extent that it probably needed to be, and so I thought I’d go ahead and pick the topic apart today.
It seems like such a simple thing, right? Looking at the good things in your life and expressing gratitude for those things. But the first part of the equation that I know I have missed in the past and I know others might be missing is that gratitude is an important form of mindfulness and a way of remaining connected to the moment.
There’s this thing that we do when we’re really goal oriented, really fixated on achieving something or on a specific intention where we get so focused on that end point, that result that we haven’t seen yet that we don’t notice, don’t see the other milestones along the way. We don’t see the smaller steps or the smaller achievements.
So, for instance, even though I fixated for a really long time on wanting to work from home, to not have to work a day job for someone else that I didn’t care about, that I missed it happening. I imagined it looking a specific way, and since it kind of came about in a different chain of events than I’d imagined, I didn’t realize for a long time that, even though I hadn’t hit the, like… I was thinking about it like I wanted to be totally successful through my writing or my artwork or whatever to the point that I was financially not just stable, but, like, doing really well at it. Like, not struggling, sure that I wouldn’t need to get a regular job again.
So I had that in my head, and that’s what I was sort of holding my experience up against as far as evaluating my progress. But there did come a time, I don’t know what it was, I think maybe it was the second year of filing my taxes entirely self-employed, but there was something along the way at one point… I had quit my regular job and spent a couple of years writing, self-publishing, creating, freelancing for income, and it wasn’t easy by any means, it certainly didn’t live up to that image in my mind of what I wanted to accomplish, but there was a point that made me look around at my life and realize that, you know, me from ten years ago, fifteen years ago would be so incredibly excited to be where I was at. I was doing the things that were important to me, working from home, not having to get up at a certain time every morning, that’s…. Like, that’s literally what I always wanted.
And frankly, my idea of what I wanted that to look like had changed over time, continually. Like, continually shifting, so… That’s the thing about a really mindful gratitude practice, it is kind of a consistent checking in on progress not in relation to the ideal that’s in your mind at any given time, but in relation to a more holistic view of your life.
And this is important to a spellwork practice as well for the same reason. It’s super easy to get caught up mentally and emotionally in however we imagine our intentions could manifest, and if we undertake a gratitude practice which pushes us to be more open to the good things, the progress, the small things in our lives then we can stay more tuned in, more open to recognizing the ways that our intention can manifest that we didn’t expect or even seeing signs that it’s in progress. The evidence that things are shifting around us.
And this is… I recently was approached by a company called Monk Manual to try out their planner, which is a 90 day thing, it’s been an interesting experience, still ongoing – they did give me, I guess this is the cool bit of like the first time of me being approached as an influencer, they gave me one to try out and if you want to try one you can use the code Bridget10 to get a discount on their site – but part of the planner is that every day there’s a spot on the page for three things you’re grateful for. And going through this trial of the manual, I challenged myself to not repeat things, so every day the challenge was to come up with three new things, three things I hadn’t listed in recent memory, at least, that I was grateful for. And it’s easy in the beginning, but eventually you end up having to dig down a bit deeper. Thinking about the things which got you to where you are, the small things in life, people who have smaller roles to play in your life that maybe you don’t think of right away, experiences you’ve had that had some positive impact on your life, that sort of thing.
So that’s the first mistake you might be making in your gratitude practice and how to fix it. Don’t just focus your gratitude on the obvious. Focus it on the small stuff, too. The unexpected, the little steps, the silver linings. And in a moment I’ll dig into the second big gratitude mistake.
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Now back to the episode!
One of the the most destructive patterns in modern spirituality is toxic positivity. And gratitude practices can fall into that, easily. It’s not that positivity is bad or that engaging purposefully and in a healthy way with practices meant to increase positive energies in our lives are a bad idea. There’s… I can’t think of any way that a gratitude practice can be a bad idea in itself. However, anything that gets wrapped up in what I refer to as toxic positivity has a destructive impact because it weaponizes happiness, joy, contentment, and even gratitude.
For a very long time I was really resistant and really… well, for lack of a better term, I was triggered by the suggestion that everything is as it should be. I mean, first of all, I try really hard to avoid the word ‘should’. Nothing ‘should’ be anything. There’s no intent in the world outside our own intent, and getting hung up on some vision of how things ‘should’ be detaches us from all other possibilities. There’s not a reason for everything in life. Everything that happens that’s good in some way had elements that are not so great and vice versa.
But what was really triggering for me was that the idea that everything is as it ought to be and that, you know, whatever was happening around us, even if it wasn’t for a reason, per se, was somehow… like, we shouldn’t be trying to change it. That we should just ride the wave of either fate or chance, depending on your particular worldview. Because, like, we’ve all got trauma of one flavor or another, right? And how is it helpful or healthy is it to push each other into this, like, complete surrender to circumstance when we do, actually, have the ability to advocate for ourselves and create change in the world. Like, don’t tell me not to try and change things for the better or stand up for myself, right? I don’t have to feel gratitude for my trauma.
So, of course, along the way I’ve come to realize that, at the root of it, saying everything is as it should be isn’t about all that, it’s really a statement that reality is reality in the moment and can’t be changed in the moment and therefore it’s… Basically, it’s the opposite of how I took it for a long time and it means that each moment and situation is a result of all kinds of patterns which converge at that point and that’s the reason it’s happening, that’s the meaning behind it, it’s logical in that crazy universal way.
But I know that I’m not the only person who has struggled under misconceptions and misinterpretations of all this stuff. The way we use words to express these ideas are important, and gratitude – back on topic, I promise – gratitude can get twisted into something we’re forced into as part of this toxic positivity, weaponized acceptance thing. Like, things are how they are and we should be grateful because even if we don’t see the reasons, everything is good and purposeful and to be appreciated. It’s easy to resent gratitude practices when they get wrapped up in this stuff because it starts to feel like pressure to be happy about things in our lives that are damaging. We can get into the type of gratitude that’s like, well, at least it’s not as bad as it could have been or at least it’s not as bad as some other person has it. Or, like, I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m sure there’s going to be a good side of this that I’ll be grateful for.
And that’s not the point of a beneficial gratitude practice. The mistake is letting these ideas and these pressures push us to fake gratitude and forced gratitude. Because yeah, things are as they are, they are as they are supposed to be because they are the result of all kinds of forces coming together to create reality, and we don’t have to be grateful for the form they take.
But gratitude in this case is what can lead the way forward. Gratitude for the strength to get through things. Gratitude for the people around you who support you. Gratitude for opportunities you find to make positive change. Gratitude for lessons learned even if they’re learned the hard way. See the difference?
And the way forward is our choice. It’s not just chance, it’s not just the product of lots of forces beyond our control. We have a role in that. If nothing else, our gratitude practice can keep us connected to that energy, that power that we hold and the choices we get to make. Our agency and autonomy in the face of whatever it is going on around us.
So that’s the second big gratitude mistake, feeling forced to feel fake gratitude for things in the interest of being positive and high vibration. Remember that our experiences and environments aren’t always something to be grateful for in themselves, but we always have the power to turn what happens in our lives into something we build and grow from rather than be torn down by, and it’s that power we can always be grateful for. In just a minute, we’ll get into the last of the three big gratitude mistakes.
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I wonder sometimes how much of this is, like, capitalism running through our spiritual ideas, although I honestly think it probably goes back a lot further. But so many of us, me included, feel compelled to reduce lots of our relationships – not just with people, but energetic relationships and exchanges – to reduce them to transactions. If I do enough of this, then I’m entitled to a certain amount of that.
So, for instance, if I do a set number of household chores, then it puts my spouse at a deficit and then she owes me an equal amount in return. Or if I do enough spiritual work, the things I’m trying to manifest will come to me because I’ve earned them. Or, in the case of gratitude, if I show enough gratitude for the things I have, I’ll start getting the things I want. We “do gratitude” like it’s a chore on a kid’s chore chart so we’ll get a star and eventually a bigger allowance. Or we do it kind of like a performance piece, like if we show enough gratitude, the universe will be convinced we will appreciate what we’ve asked for and we’ll get it.
But the benefit of gratitude isn’t transactional. We don’t show gratitude for the benefit of anyone else. Like, yeah, if someone gets me a gift or does something nice for me or is a significant positive force in my life, I will show gratitude to them to let them know I appreciate them and what they do. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about personal gratitude practice as part of a larger spiritual one. The energy of gratitude isn’t currency we exchange for anything outside of ourselves.
And this kind of feeds into a larger issue of us treating the energies around us as if they are human and behave in human ways. As above so below, yeah. As within, so without, sure. But the universe isn’t human. It doesn’t behave like a human, and assuming it does is how we’ve created gods.
Anyway, the real issue with performative gratitude or transactional gratitude is that it’s not real gratitude. It’s like… Okay, my brain for this goes back to when I graduated from high school and we had a graduation party and people got me gifts of various things and, of course, I had to write thank you notes. And here’s the thing – I don’t remember at this point what I got for graduation other than money. I know I got gifts from some people, though, and I definitely remember having to write thank you notes. And, like, I have nothing in particular against the idea of thank you notes, right? It’s just, you know, all those people were there. At my party. And I said thank you when I opened the gifts and cards, and I personally expressed thanks in person, and being a person who hasn’t ever been really keen on being told I had to do things which seemed redundant and pointless, sitting down to write those thank you notes wasn’t my favorite thing. But I did it because I understood that this was a social convention and I didn’t want to hurt feelings and all of that.
And you know what? Doing that didn’t make me more grateful for anything I got. It didn’t elevate that exchange into something more significant.
And going through the internal motions of gratitude practice for spiritual cred or capital is kind of the same thing. It’s not going to make you actually grateful for anything more than you already are. No matter what you believe about the nature of the universe and the powers that exist in it, there’s no basis for believing that you can fake your way to giving your expressions of gratitude legitimacy that they don’t actually have. And you, internally, know that. Which is completely contrary to the benefits of a gratitude practice.
Gratitude is a mechanism for connection, and if it’s fake you’re not connecting with anything. If you’re trying to make yourself feel grateful because you think other people expect you to be grateful, it’s not real. It’s not authentic gratitude. If you’re expressing gratitude for things hoping that going through the motions is enough to bring benefit and change to your life, it’s not authentic gratitude. And if that leaves you struggling to find anything to be grateful for, it’s time to go back to mistakes one and two I just talked about and dig into the smaller good things in your life and the elements of your personal power to focus your gratitude practice on.
When you do that, it all comes back down to mindfulness, connection, and authentic empowerment. The good news is that if you do practice authentic gratitude, it can and is likely to lead to greater mastery of your practice and more positive manifestation in your life, not because it’s a transactional thing, not because gratitude is what you have to do to earn those things, but because gratitude enables you to master those skills and stay in the kind of energetic alignment which makes your practice and your life more productive overall.be pressure that we have accepted willingly and then started to put on ourselves – we’re really good at that, us humans. But it’s not pressure that we put on ourselves to be more ourselves, you know?
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.