On Gratefulness

Are we really being grateful? I feel like that’s a question many of us ask ourselves.

There have been many times in my life where I certainly was doing my best to feel grateful, but couldn’t help taking note of the things I still felt I was lacking. This stretches from important to trivial, as many of our lists would.

“I should be grateful for what I have,” I tell myself. “My life is good. So what if I don’t have everything I want?”

“Don’t some people have it worse?” Isn’t that the most common way we make ourselves feel bad for our desires? Of course some people have it worse, but that’s not really the point.

Here’s the thing: you can be grateful for what you have and still feel lacking. That’s allowed. Not only that, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable. It’s how you handle this that matters.

I’ve been dealing with this problem a lot recently. See, my birthday was this week. And for a few of my previous birthdays, including during the last two years while I was at graduate school, I’ve been alone. I was without my family and sometimes even without close friends to spend my day with. My family has always put a great importance on birthdays (often having big celebrations with many family members celebrating several birthdays at once), so I keenly felt their absence on each birthday that I spent without them.

And this year was thankfully different. I wasn’t alone this year. I still didn’t get to see my family for my birthday, but this year I got to spend my birthday with my husband. I never would have expected one year ago that at this time the next year, I’d be married to my best friend. (Max and I knew each other, but didn’t expect we could get married so soon at the time).

But here’s the problem: I still felt a bit lacking. I have endless love for my husband and he made my birthday absolutely wonderful. The only regret I have of the day is the one thing he couldn’t give me: getting to see my parents and siblings. We currently live too far away for them to have come to visit us or for us to go see them.

Because of all this, I’ve been struggling with guilt for the past week. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for how much effort my husband made, but I still missed my family on my birthday. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying about this.

So here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: It is possible to be grateful and still feel there is something missing.

When it comes to my case, this means a few things. My husband can’t be all things to me all the time and he shouldn’t be expected to. It is perfectly acceptable – and even healthy – that I miss my family around my birthday, when we’ve put so much emphasis on that time together as a family in the past.

On the other hand, I can’t let my homesickness overshadow my husband’s efforts to make my birthday a lovely one and let those feelings stifle my appreciation of all he did. He gave me a lovely day and it was even more special when I remind myself that I didn’t expect a year ago that we’d be married so soon. Even more so in memory of the birthdays I have spent all alone.

Just because there’s still a few grains of sadness in your heart, doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful for what you have. You just can’t let your sadness overshadow the good things in your life. I know from experience that that’s easier said than done, but I never said being grateful was easy. It takes work, but it’s worth it.

And we should be grateful. There’s always something good in your life, however small it is and even if you have to do a little looking for it.

You don’t need to feel guilty for recognizing things you know are missing from your life. You’re not a bad person for feeling that. What you do need to do is recognize the good things you have, be grateful for them, and thank whoever gave them to you (God, your husband, your mom, friends, whoever). And doing that will inevitably make you feel better, even if you still feel you’re missing a few things in your life.

May you have many things to be grateful for!

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