Am I a total narcissist?
I try to decipher the look on my counselor’s face. (I suspect narcissist might be the wrong word as I grope for a strong negative.) She listens and waits.
Because the world is unraveling—earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, the Trump administration, fires, mass shootings. I’m paying attention. But I am still happy. So happy. There must be something wrong. Right?
Her face remains calm.
People are displaced, hurt, many have lost loved ones, and a lot of people are afraid.
All of this is deeply troubling. And yet I find myself thankful each morning I wake up.
My first thought is Thank you Thank you Thank you for my beautiful life!
I love waking up! I love waking up next to Ken. I love all the goodness of movement and the out-of-doors on my morning walk. My heart sings as I sit across the table from true love. I savor fresh fruit and other good things for breakfast.
Waving my hands in the air I tell her, I love that my fingers work. I am an art student. The car has a full tank of gas so I can drive to campus for classes.
Our children are healthy & like to talk to us. They come home to be with us often, but not too often.
I love all of this. I am so happy. And the world is going mad. Something must be wrong with me.
O, the Irony
For long-time readers this entry will seem ironic. For a year I wrote about Personal Anger: how important it is to recognize and honor this very human emotion. Now I confess daily joy and wonder if there’s something wrong with me.
Within a week of my question to my counselor, I was reading Brené Brown’s newest book Braving the Wilderness. My daily joy, Brown assured me, has a name-able cause.
Brown writes, “…the key to joy is practicing gratitude.” There it is. Gratitude is to blame. I feel joyful, happy, deeply in love with life because I name things for which I am grateful.
But something got me worried about my joyful orientation. Growing up I learned to see hand-wringing, anxiety, worry and fear as signs of deep care. You had to be visibly distress & vocally distraught to prove you gave injustice, horror, trauma their proper due. Without putting on emotional sack-cloth and ashes, you didn’t really care.
Brown goes on to note that
When we surrender our own joy to make those in pain feel less alone or to make ourselves feel less guilty or seem more committed, we deplete ourselves of what it takes to feel fully alive…” 156
Stirring up a second-hand distress is of no help to anyone, especially someone actually in distress.
Back to my counselor and her response to my question, Is something wrong with me?
She assures me:
Gratitude is never a sign of narcissism.
I suspected this. (But it helps to know for sure.) Gratitude does not breathe the same air as narcissism. Whats more, the joy gratitude produces is not something to worry about or feel ashamed of.
A Tonic in Tough Times
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a world gone mad—but you are not homeless, wounded, or bereft—it is time for gratitude. (Of course, gratitude is never out of style. But when you are homeless, wounded, or bereft, forcing it is disingenuous.)
Wondering where to start? How much do you love being able to see? How do you like those toes, ankles, knees that make standing, walking, dancing possible? What about the smell of toast, or coffee, or rain?
There are a million things happening that will break your heart.
There are also ten million things that will make your heart sing.
Mending and tending our hearts with gratitude is a revolutionary act.
Joy is radical.
It is the way to gather strength to push back and make a difference where we can. A way to find peace when what we most need to do is show up with our whole hearts, be present, and work for change.