This time of year, people enjoy standing on soapboxes and preaching about gratitude. They say to count your blessings and appreciate the little things.
I’m here to let you in on a little secret, though: You don’t always have to be thankful.
You don’t have to be thankful for the nightmares that haunt you in your sleep. Those terrifying memories that flash before your eyes never deserve gratitude, no matter what you learned from them. Just because we grow doesn’t mean that we’re grateful for the growing pains.
People will use phrases like, “This too shall pass,” but your bright future doesn’t mean that you can’t feel pain in the present. Others will urge you to “forgive and forget,” but forgiveness and acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to condone what happened to you.
You don’t have to be thankful for illness and disease. The pain and the battles, the loss and the grief aren’t worthy of gratitude at all. Although the dark moments may just be temporary, we can still allow ourselves to feel sorrow.
People will tell you, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. But even if you are incredibly strong, you don’t have to be thankful every single day for the hand that life dealt you. It’s OK to curse when you wake up in pain or when your anxiety makes it impossible to leave the house. You can question your faith when a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis or when you lose a child. And when someone tells you that everything happens for a reason, I’ll gladly come punch them for you and set them straight.
You don’t have to be thankful for the rejections. Whether a lover abandons us or a job offer slips through our fingers, we often need time to regroup and persevere. Everything may happen for a reason, and better opportunities may come along, but that doesn’t make our moments of heartache worthy of our gratitude.
People will try to say, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” or “It wasn’t meant to be,” but that doesn’t take away from your heartache in the heat of the moment. Others have no right to try to make you feel grateful for a difficult experience before you’re ready to move forward.
Eventually the sun will shine again. You’ll climb out of the hole you’re stuck in and smell the roses again, giving thanks for all that’s good in your life. But in the less joyful moments, don’t feel like you have to falsely replace your pain with gratitude. Allow yourself the space to feel every emotion and embrace all that you are. Your emotions are always valid, and you don’t always have to be grateful to make the most of your life.