Gratitude is a crucial practice for lifelong happiness and health. We can have all of the comforts and luxuries that this world can offer and still be miserable. We all intellectually know this, most of us have worked on this. We've written in gratitude journals, practiced gratitude meditations, and posted inspirational gratitude memes on social media.
But today I want you to lean into the discontent. To remember that it is ok to experience that deep scratching sensation your soul. To feel it fully and let it inform you. Let it drive you and give you wings.
I don’t know if it is a hopelessness that has taken hold of us all through the struggles of the Great Recession, a proliferation of self help mania, the instagram perfection we perceive of everyone else's lives, or something else entirely. But I see a disturbing trend towards a “cult of positivity” in our culture. This notion that you are never allowed to feel anything other than happy, grateful and joyous at every moment of every day is increasingly pervasive. And it really, really bothers me.
This attitude feels especially pointed in the “mom blogosphere”. Posts that go something like “Sure I used to have a fulfilling career as a PHD in (insert intellectually stimulating field here), and I climbed mountains, ran marathons, and was a member of the board of several children’s hospitals before having children. Sure I miss those things a little but really I’m SOOO HAPPY now drowning under a mountain of dirty diapers and piles of dishes because GRATITUDE!! #soblessed!” I can almost see the author, dead in the eyes, jumping up and down clapping her hands with a huge smile plastered on her face desperately trying to believe what she is saying, because it is really herself she needs to convince.
The promotion of the “good vibes only at all times” mentality of motherhood is killing us. It is one of the misguided attitudes that leads us to ignore symptoms of postpartum depression, and trivialize the very intense reality of the hosts of challenges that moms face every day. It leads to burnout, resentment, and opportunities lost. “What do you MEAN you are not deliriously happy at every moment of every day! You have a wonderful family! You should never feel anything but wonderful ALWAYS!”
When I was in the depths of PPD, this was one of the scripts that played in my head all the time. “I have a lovely home, a supportive and unbelievably long suffering husband, running hot and cold water, a beautiful and healthy child...There must be something wrong with my character. Clearly I’m just not grateful enough. Maybe I need to gratitude harder. #firstworldproblems.” This mentality kept me stuck for way too long. Even if PPD or other mental illness isn’t the issue, you are not required to find complete and ultimate fulfillment exclusively through parenting and housekeeping. (On the flip side, you are also not required to love an adore a job that pulls you away from your kids more hours a day than you would like. Especially if it sucks on the whole.)
Discontent is at the root of all great things that have ever been done. It is that which whispers “you can do better, there is another way’. Every inventor, author, and thinker in the world has felt this and heeded the call. Yes, figure out how to have gratitude for that fact that dirty dishes means you had food to eat, and that your screaming toddler means your child is alive and well. That perspective is necessary and important. And, you have permission to also feel your discontent when it arrives. To ask yourself the small still question “What do I need to do, even in some small way, to begin to feel the way I want to feel?” You CAN develop your contentment without giving into complacency.
So the next time you feel that scratching sensation, settle in and listen to it. Feel it. And ask yourself “What can I do today, this week, or this month, to begin to shift this feeling. How is it I want to feel, and how can I get there within the parameters of my life as it is right now?” When you formulate an answer, I’d love to hear from you if you are willing to share. Leave a comment and let me know. What are you going to do to respond to your discontent?