The kind of gratitude you should never practice

Gratitude is a powerful thing, isn't it? A thankful thought can transform our days or even our lives. I've heard stories of people being healed of serious diseases simply through practicing deepening gratitude in their lives. It's always good to have gratitude. But there is a form of gratitude that can actually detract from our well-being and the well-being of others. It's misguided and in fact may not quite qualify as gratitude in the truest sense.

I discovered this through an experience that may seem insignificant. Last winter we had a problem with mice in our house. It was disturbing to me, and I was very glad that it seemed the measures we took to prevent reoccurrences had been successful this year. I remember one day thinking to myself, "I'm so grateful we don't have mice this year!" The next evening my dad reported to my mom and me that he was sorry to say he had seen a mouse on the counter after lunch. My heart sank. And I wondered, "What the heck? I was just saying I was grateful about this!" Why would this happen?

As I pondered this seeming oddity, I had a couple realizations. First, I saw that I was expressing almost a sort of negative gratitude. I was saying I was grateful for the absence of something, rather than saying, "I'm so grateful for a harmonious, healthy home." But then it went a step further for me because something still wasn't feeling right. By saying I was glad that we did not have mice, I was allowing myself to be open to the possibility of something intruding on my home as well as the homes of others. My saying "I'm glad this isn't happening" also indicates an underlying fear that perhaps it could happen again for me or for others. If we apply this same principle more universally, we might find ourselves (and this is something we do frequently perhaps) saying things like, "I'm so grateful I don't have that disease" or "I'm so grateful my finances are not a mess" or even "I'm so grateful I have a home." All of these statements basically imply that there are others who do have the challenges we feel blessed to be free from OR that there are others who lack things that we have. Tricky, right?

Of course there is nothing wrong with being grateful for having a home….UNLESS we exclude others from that gratitude and expectation of good. If we've searched and found a home we love, why not give gratitude for that along with embracing an expectation that all God's children deserve homes and a prayer that this truth will be manifested for everyone regardless of their circumstances? We can pray this same prayer to cover all topics that might come to mind when we are feeling grateful.

There are all kinds of ways to expand our gratitude in thought and prayer. For example, around the time of the mouse sighting, there was a report that there had been some break-ins and thefts in our community. Last year, our home had been broken into, and valuable items had been stolen. Rather than just saying, "I'm grateful we don't have mice," or "I'm glad our home hasn't had another break-in this year," I realized I could draw out my thought to embrace our whole community in an expectation of and prayer for safety and immunity to any kind of invasion, be it of tiny animals or the malice of theft. 

Our gratitude is most powerful when it is all-inclusive. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health: "Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind share it" (p. 57). We could substitute the word "gratitude" for the word "happiness" in that quote. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a publican at prayer. The Pharisee thanks God that he is not "like other men", especially the publican. This prayer does not work out too well for him, according to Jesus. Why? Perhaps because it was exclusive as well as being negative. Gratitude and selfishness just don't mix. Gratitude and generosity, however, complement each other perfectly. 

I've been making efforts to practice a more inclusive gratitude and finding it freeing. I have not seen any mice, and I trust that others in my neighborhood are also enjoying homes free of disturbance. All of this is not to say that we should be superstitious or afraid we will express our thankfulness in a misled way that will backfire. It is simply to say that while selfish or negatively phrased gratitude or prayers of any kind are problematic, expansive gratitude is a beautiful and healing thing that can yield unexpectedly wonderful results. Of course we are grateful simply to be grateful and not to get results. But if we find our gratitude yielding more good in our lives, that gratitude can only continue to grow and evolve in a way that will benefit ourselves as well as others.