An exercise in fragility

“I have a hard time with gratitude,” I told Nancy as we were walking. I described a bit of my thinking.

“Do you think it’s part of the ‘I can do it myself’ mindset?” she asked. It was a good question.


We’ve talked here about the the difficulty of asking for help (“The risk of asking for help“). I wonder whether our drive to do things ourselves affects our ability to experience and express gratitude. If I feel an obligation to do it myself, if I feel guilty for inconveniencing other people, will I be more or less likely to be grateful when others help?

So I’d like to suggest an experiment for us this weekend. I want us to spend an hour making a list of the things we are grateful for.

Here are some groundrules.

You have to write (or type). I think that the visceral nature of writing with pen on paper keeps this process grounded.

You have to set a timer and spend an hour. It will be grueling.

You can write words, sentences, pictures. 

You can promise yourself to shred it when you are done. You may not want anyone else to read it.

If you identify something that makes you then feel guilty for not measuring up, give yourself permission to say, “Whatever” and move on. (For example, some of us find the following thinking very familiar: “I’m grateful for all the time Beth has spent encouraging me. Oh my. I owe her so much. I bet she thinks I’m such a failure. I wonder how I can make it up to her.” At that moment say “whatever” and go back to your list. You can make the guilt list later.)

If you get stuck, use the following prompts:

I am grateful for…
I am grateful to…
I am grateful that…
I am grateful when…

Ask God to help you see what you might be missing. 

That’s it. An hour of vulnerability with your ego. Let us know how it goes.

3 thoughts on “An exercise in fragility

  1. Rich Dixon

    I did a similar, more extended exercise in counseling after my injury. It became a book when I saw all the people God sent into my life while I was complaining that He wasn’t showing up.

    For me, writing and telling that story has been a great way past the guilt thing. Gives me space to find other stuff to feel guilty about. 🙂


  2. Joanna Paterson (@joannapaterson)

    Just wanted to add that I found the words (and gratitude) flowing very differently when I used a different formulation.

    Starting the sentences ‘grateful I am…’ seemed to switch my state somehow, and let unexpected things unfold.

    It’s an interesting and surprisingly difficult topic, for something that is also (potentially!) so simple and beautiful. Thanks for exploring it so honestly.


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