This blog is the transcript of Episode #59 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.
If you’ve been following “Under 10” lately, then you’ve noticed a theme. Since Episode #55, I’ve been teaching you how to ask for and grow what you want in intimacy. This episode is part five of the five-part series. This week, I’m going to talk about the practice of gratitude. If you’re anything like me, you could easily blow off gratitude as the window dressing of relationship practices. But as I’ve gotten happier in life, I’ve been humbled to realize that gratitude is not just about fleeting words or Hallmark sentiments. It’s a potent practice that can turn the tide of your intimacy towards the world you desire. And it’s not for sissies. I hope you’ll listen to this episode to find out why.
Let me begin with a caveat. You may not like the story I am about to tell you. I am not telling it in order to instill jealousy or make you feel worse about your life, but in order to share my joy. See if you can notice the impact on your heart and mind of hearing my account.
I have been blessed with a husband who loves to feed me. I realized that today, he actually cooked all three of my meals. When I wobbled into the kitchen this morning half-awake, he handed me my mug of herbal coffee with oat milk, just how I like it. He then cooked our oatmeal, steamy and sweet with raisins, my favorite. For lunch, I ate half of a juicy lamb burger, leftover from the meal he cooked last night. And then for dinner, while I was composing this episode, he fried up a goose egg omelet with feta and kale, goose egg complements of a dear friend. The menu itself would be astounding enough. But it’s also the genuine joy he derives from serving me that makes being married to this man a barrage of blessings every day.
Okay now pause in your listening and ask yourself, how does it feel to know this about my partnership? Does it inspire jealousy? Do you suddenly hate me? Like the quote from the famous diner orgasm scene in the movie, “When Harry Met Sally”, would you like an order of what I’m having? Just ask yourself.
The first principle here in making gratitude a practice lies in being able to joy in another’s joy. In Yiddish, it’s called kvelling. The literal definition of kvell is, “to be proud or rejoice”. In practice, it’s feeling others’ joy as if it was your own, basically joyful empathy. Your ability to feel joy when others are happy is key to your happiness. And it will go against that instinct to shrivel, turn green and “other” someone who has what you want.
Breathe with me for a moment, and expand into knowing that a hard-working lady is being treated well by a good man somewhere in the world. This is truly good news. Can you soften, breathe out and on the in breath, tap some of this joy as if it was accessible to you, as well?
Feeling gratitude and joy through others can be tough to access at first. It’s going to take training to discipline yourself out of contracting in the face of others’ joy, especially if you want what they have. But when you do, you begin to uplift your own heart. You celebrate abundance in the world, whatever its target. And in so doing, you let joy know, you are able to receive it, too. Worried I would make others feel badly, I spent years downplaying my professional successes and even the pleasure I found through my sex before I realized it was a gift to share these things. Every time we say to someone who is happy, “Your joy brings me joy”, we make it more possible for others to fully embrace their well-being while magnifying joy in the world.
Across her 12 years of research on vulnerability, author Brene Brown found that it was the active practice of gratitude that invited joy into people’s lives. Being thankful brought happiness, rather than only happy people being thankful. It’s a powerful finding. And one that can also be true about gratitude for someone’s else’s joy. That is, when you can revel in someone else’s happiness through gratitude, you can get some of that goodness for your own.
Okay now back to my husband feeding me. What are my options for how to respond to this?
I could deflect his generosity, make jokes, and blow off his gestures. Essentially desecrate the offering. Which would diminish the likelihood that I would keep getting what I want, not to mention damage the tender heart of the person making the offer.
I could get entitled, start expecting his cooking, tell him the food isn’t salted enough and get so bloated on goodness that I take him for granted. Which would also betray his kindness and likely ensure it doesn’t keep happening.
The alternative is actually harder than it seems. I could receive his kindness with gratitude. To pause in the face of beauty and say, I see you and I feel you and I taste you and I smell you. I am letting you touch me and inspire me. I am letting your love ferret out all of the hungry and tired places that have needed you for so long. I will let you fill them.
What I have just described, most people can’t do. Gratitude is definitely not for sissies. When faced with getting precisely the thing you want, you may feel anxiety and even fear. Your willingness to let yourself be fed can feel extraordinarily vulnerable. Because if you have opened before and not gotten fed, that mouth and heart may have learned to stay shut so as to protect from disappointment. As I shard in last week’s show, most people are more familiar with malnourishment. So when the prospect of nourishment shows up, it can feel threatening to the part that learned not to want. When you bravely open and express gratitude in the face of getting what you want, you say to your desire, it’s okay to want, even if you don’t always get the thing. Because sometimes you do. Intentionally expanding into love through gratitude can help you heal all the times that came before, so that you don’t get stuck in the shut down and so that you can receive the goodness presenting itself to you now.
To be clear, gratitude is not just about saying thank you. I like to say, gratitude is a verb. To embody gratitude, we have the chance to let the thing we are receiving really touch us. This week’s homework will help you let yourself be touched. This practice requires a partner.
Person 1 will begin by saying to person 2, “I would like to share some love with you now. Are you open?” This step is important because Person 2 needs the chance to prepare. You can replace the word love with “appreciation” or any other offering that feels true to your connection.
Person 2 gets to assess their readiness. Am I ready to receive love? The answer can be “no”. If it is yes, then ready yourself. I often encourage massaging your heart so it can soften to receive.
Person 2, when you are ready, then says, ‘Yes, I’m ready”.
Person 1 then gets to dole out love. This can look like sharing an appreciation. For example, “When you did the dishes last night, I felt grateful”. Or, “I like that shirt on you. It brings out the blue of your eyes”. It’s helpful to be specific and not use too many words. You can also try simply, “I love you”.
Person 2 then gets to receive. I encourage a deep breath like slurping in soup. Drinking the offer of love down your spine. Let yourself take several breaths before saying anything. Let yourself practice feeling the texture and quality of their words in your body.
When you are ready, you can simply say, “Thank you”. And then you will switch roles.
When we let ourselves be touched by beauty especially if it’s something we have been longing for, gratitude can drive the choices we make in life and even help us heal. I never thought I would find a life partner, let alone someone who has so much devotion to my wellbeing. Every day I practice letting my husband’s beauty touch me and expressing my gratitude. I don’t always succeed. But when I do, when I can receive his gift with the fullness with which it is given, it inspires me to become a better person and to be more available to joy in life in multiple forms. That is the power of gratitude. May you look for and find many opportunities to practice in the coming week.