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Letting Gratitude and Grief Co-Exist

I am a psychologist. And a realist. While I believe that there is power in perspective and positive thinking, I am no Pollyanna.

As a human, it is important to honestly acknowledge pain. It is common in our culture for people to make fast attempts to distract someone from their distress at the first sign of strong emotion. Instead of tolerating their own internal discomfort, observers opt for action and want to offer words. They favor fixing. It offers a sense of power and a semblance of control. These internal states are often preferable to helplessness – something often activated when observing suffering outside of the self.

The problem with this approach is that when people are experiencing anguish, first they need acknowledgment. Validation. When we’re sad, sometimes we just need someone to sit with us in it and say nothing. Silence and presence can be more powerful than a tissue to soak up tears.

And yet, alongside the awful are of incredible glimmers of good. Life-changing gold. Opportunities. Unexpected growth from uninvited lessons. Precious time. Perspective.

In each day, there are little things that we can point to with gratitude. When we choose to cast our gaze in the direction of the good, something mysterious changes. Breathing in a breath of hope can make a world of difference when you feel suffocated by your circumstances. When you walk your attention to a place of appreciation, you can take back a sense of control—something that seems to be in short supply as of late.

In all seasons, it is important to let two things co-exist: grief and gratitude. There will be inevitable tension between the two states. Practice tolerating it. Let grief and gratitude sit side-by-side in your heart and mind. To deny the presence of one will be to your detriment – physically and psychologically. Acknowledge the unearthed tragedy and the newfound treasure in the lives of those around you. Suspend your need to be a savior, and simply sit with them. Celebrate every win you witness.

Life can be awesome and awful.

We live an existence of fragmented joy.

Allow yourself to acknowledge the difficulty. And don’t stop appreciating the beauty, too.


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