As Thanksgiving approached, I found myself barraged with annoying platitudes about gratitude. Gratitude is the new superpower. It heals your chakra (whatever that is), and rebalances your mind and spirit. We should all be running out to buy gratitude journals and rose-coloured glasses.
But I am far from grateful these days. My glasses are decidedly clear, and much like Blue Rodeo, I see a world that is tired and scared and has been living on the edge too long.
When the lockdown first started, the prospect of working from home all the time seemed intriguing. With my 2.5-hour daily commute eliminated, I imagined a laundry list of productive things I could accomplish. I would eat healthier, workout everyday, spend more time with my family, and finally conquer my garden once and for all.
None of that happened.
I ate a lot of comfort food, gained weight and barely stepped into my garden. My plan to walk 5K every morning lasted about two weeks. I wasn’t even doing the things I used to do, let alone the ones I had hoped to do. Even worse, my work-life balance shattered into pieces. I worked all over the house at all hours of the day. My house became a hostage to virtual meetings. Yet, despite working (what felt like) all the time, I was accomplishing less and less each day.
Seven months later, little seems improved. While I am better able to manage some things, I have yet to find a way to cope with the daily uncertainty that the pandemic has cast over every aspect of our lives.
As a lawyer, I am trained to predict, chart outcomes and help my clients find certainty in risk. Not being able to see an endpoint to this “new normal” (how I hate to even write those words!) has thrown me off balance and made me weary. I feel like Sisyphus pushing a giant boulder up an exhausting hill only to have it roll back down again over and over.
Being told I should be grateful doesn’t make me feel better; it makes me feel worse. That—for me at least—is the inherent problem with forcing gratitude.
When we tell ourselves that we should be grateful, we are often left to compare our suffering to the suffering of others. That person no longer has a job. That person is very sick. At least things aren’t as bad as they are for that person. We feel compelled to say we are grateful—and then secretly feel guilty because we can’t muster the strength to sincerely feel that way. More troubling is when that same guilt forces us to supress genuine feelings of sadness and anxiety. It’s so much easier to simply nod and smile and say you are grateful than to suggest you are not okay.
Let me be clear: my issue is not with gratitude for its own sake. It’s with being told to be grateful in the face of unhappiness and misfortune. There is nothing wrong with writing down the good in each day as long as we feel free to give an equal voice to our grief and pain. How about writing down what you are not grateful for as well?
In the weeks before Thanksgiving, I was chatting with a colleague about how I had accomplished so little since the beginning of the lockdown. A few days later she sent me a note. We should be kind to ourselves, she said. And there, in that simple statement, was what I had been looking for.
We are facing a crisis that has no end in sight. It has turned the world upside down, and may change the way we live and work forever. Amid all that, I have a right to feel sad and anxious. I have a right to feel overwhelmed and even utterly ungrateful if that is what I need to be at any given moment.
I may not be able to manage to write a list of things I am grateful for everyday, but I can certainly be kind to myself everyday. I can remind myself that it is okay to not be okay. Afterall, self-compassion is also a superpower. Sisyphus, I suspect, would agree.
Yasmin Visram is Senior Managing Counsel at iA Financial Group. She has been practicing in-house for the last 20 years. Connect with her on LinkedIn.