I’m a motivational speaker and trainer. I help soul-searching executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals experience greater balance, freedom, and fun in their life by finding more success, joy, and purpose in their work. What I do is steeped in positivity and self-love. And you can’t invite those two to the party without gratitude.
But, I have a problem with gratitude.
I’m one of the millions of adopted people raised by parents and families, not of our birth. You may imagine, what I always pictured: a dirty, shoeless child on a dusty street with tears streaming down her face. She was abandoned by her birth parents and needs to be saved.
You’ve seen the ads. You think that’s the whole story.
Those children exist but I wasn’t one of them. I had a different story set in modern times with a cute 1970s wardrobe and little bob haircut. It was a story of loss and coercion. Subterfuge and betrayal. Powerlessness and fear amidst utter grief and sadness. The perfect makings of a true Korean drama but one too shameful to tell.
So, although the first chapters of my story were different from the stereotypical ideation of abandoned children, I still ended up in the same fairytale middle in the eyes of most onlookers.
I was saved and needed to be grateful for that.
Gratitude work is a fundamental part of positive psychology, the study of positive human emotions and experiences and how they affect our health and behaviors. It’s also part of countless self-help books, exercises, and activities related to happiness and wellbeing, and the theme of this week’s holiday.
There’s a feel-good quality and easiness to the advice. Just think about everything you’re grateful for and voila, you’re happy.
But, it’s not that simple and easy.
For an adoptee like me, gratitude is a weighty subject. I grew up with a quiet suffering hidden behind a mask of happiness and fulfillment.
But, I was saved and needed to be grateful for that.
Over the years, I transformed and broke free of the identity given to me. It wasn’t pretty but it was beautiful. Filled with tears, heartache, confusion, pain, and trauma I pushed through the sadness and shame, and past the expectations.
I was re-born as my real self made up of the full experience of my life, not just the neat and happy parts. I moved from happy to confused to depressed to angry to lost to finally found and free.
Going through transformations like this are not only uncomfortable for oneself but may rankle those who expect you to be and act a certain way. In my case, grateful.
I’ve had to let go of some family members in the process and re-evaluate some other relationships in my life.
Did they accept and see all of me? Did they treat me with love and compassion? Did they care to know my whole story, the whole of who I am?
I’ve learned how to be grateful through my process of self-discovery, healing, and empowerment not from someone telling me I should be while ignoring the life I lost.
I’m grateful for having the strength to rise from my rock bottom. I’m grateful for the courage I’ve mustered to face my fears and shame and take risks that have pushed my boundaries of possibility. I’m grateful for the many healers and healing wisdom that have guided me along. I’m grateful for the love and compassion received from so many and most importantly from myself. I’m grateful, every day, for my health, my wholeness, my loving family and friends, and my privilege.
Digging deep to face myself and my whole story, accepting who I am, finding my voice, and practicing self-love and compassion have given me real and meaningful reasons to be grateful. It’s given me purpose and empathy and worthiness. It’s helped me see my connection to all things and feel at peace with my place in the world.
Gratitude is important and exercises to get there can work but only when you’ve laid a foundation of worth, not shame, on which to build a solid and enduring life of your dreams.
Doing the work can be daunting but it’s worth it. There are people and resources to help and I’m one of them. Let’s light up your life so you can light up the world.
I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for most in your life. Please share in the comments below.