When Gratitude Isn’t Rainbows and Unicorns

Marla Rose
6 min readNov 27, 2019

This year, my family has been going through something that has deepened my understanding of gratitude: how it feels in my body, how I relate to it and especially the nuanced ways I can experience it. Prior to this year, I think that I thought of gratitude as kind of an amorphous but pleasant feeling of thankfulness: uncomplicated but definitely something that people who wanted more good things to come to them should actively be trying to cultivate. I think I can attribute that to the Angry God mentality of our Judeo-Christian society: if you don’t properly nurture a state of gratitude, well, lightning may strike you, some eternally pissy bearded cloud-dude may smite you, or you’ll find out in the worst possible way just what your ingrate self should have been grateful for all along. Because of this, I think my default mode has been to be reactively, superficially grateful at times and feeling undeserving when anything less than sunshine, rainbows and a sustained feeling of warm, grateful good vibes flowed from me when I felt it should. In short, most of the time, my gratitude was infused with judgement based on how I scored my performance of it. And I almost always fell short.

This time of year especially, you might be feeling that extra pressure to “be grateful” — whatever that even means — and beating yourself up for having complicated feelings that are not perfectly unadulterated feel-good sentiments that make your chest feel all toasty and warm.

This is for you.

I have learned that, like most things in life, gratitude is complicated. Maybe it’s because humans are deeply flawed vessels but my goal is not to explore the why. I just know that it is the case for me and I suspect it may be for you as well. I regret spending so much time berating myself for failing to be quite grateful enough but I am not going to spend much time on that because I have gotten very protective of how I spend my time.

You see, my husband was diagnosed with a sudden, rare and extremely aggressive form of leukemia this year. On February 28 to be specific. Sitting in the little examination room with my husband, a doctor and nurse returned to see us after blood work with masks and serious countenances on and we received this news — just an educated guess at this point — and I don’t exaggerate when I…