Do you ever experience a “thanks, BUT…” kind of gratitude? It’s a kind of passive-aggressive gratitude: you are thankful for something, yet you almost wish the thing that you are thankful for didn’t happen, or happened differently.
Passive-aggressive gratitude can feel unsettling and irritating. Wholehearted gratitude, on the other hand, feels peaceful – it is a positive emotion that is often linked to happiness.
So, how can passive-aggressive gratitude be turned into wholehearted, genuine gratitude?
Picture a child playing on the beach: she comes close to the water wanting to get in, but quickly retreats as the wave approaches — she understands that the water is cold. And so the dance goes: a series of advances and retreats without ever touching the water. “I want to swim, BUT the water is too cold!”
The word “but” is essential to understanding the concept of passive-aggressive: “but” crosses out whatever came before it, and introduces ideas that feel more accurate to the speaker.
“I love you, but…”
“Your job performance is excellent, but…”
“Of course, I want to see you, but…”
“I am thankful, but…”
You know what’s coming next: “…but NOT REALLY!!!”.
The key to turning passive-aggressive gratitude into wholehearted gratitude getting rid of the word “but”. Make the part of the sentence before “but” feel true enough so that you have no need for a “but”, and voilà – you’ve got genuine gratitude.
“Thank you for watching my kids, but I really wish you didn’t let them sit in front of the TV all evening!”
“Thank you for watching my kids!”.
The TV-watching is a separate issue with which you can deal separately. For now, you can just allow yourself to feel thankful that you had free time to do whatever you needed to do while your kids were safe.
“Thank you for such a beautiful floor vase, but I really have no place to put it in my tiny apartment!”
“Thank you for such a beautiful vase!”
Be in the moment; enjoy the gift and a creative impulse of your friend who picked it out for you. If you need to re-house the vase later, you will deal with it separately.
Separate the things you are genuinely grateful for from the things that upset you in the situation. This way you can allow yourself to feel wholeheartedly grateful, even though you are grateful only for a part of the experience. Leave the annoying part of your experience to be addressed at a different time; it doesn’t have to taint your gratitude.