Gratitude resolutions: you're doing them wrong!


It's a new year, and while technically that means nothing (it's just another day that the planet hurtles meaninglessly around the sun and time inevitably progresses, one tiny increment at a time), it also mean everything (this is the marker! The chosen moment when we recognize, celebrate, and ceremonialize said passage. It is our chosen point of meaning and that makes it invaluable).

A lot of people make resolutions around this time to be more grateful. This is unsurprising. At this point human history, gratitude practices abound and it's a go-to resolution. It's the "save the cheerleader, save the world" of personal development and happiness.

I have also read more than one account lately (like this one) of people feeling trapped by their gratitude and ditching it.

I don't know how to say this without sounding totally self-important, but THAT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE DOING IT WRONG AND I KNOW HOW TO DO IT RIGHT!

There is a right way and a wrong way to be grateful: one way helps change your perspective on life and set you free from deep-seeded loathing, and another sticks you in a little box of fake happiness and duct tapes it closed and you have to pretend to like it because you're being "grateful."

I tried both. Not intentionally, of course. I don't think anyone says, "oh great, I can trap myself behind fake emotions and then feel guilty for not liking it? SIGN ME UP!" I just had a natural talent for things that made me feel bad about myself.

THE WRONG WAY TO USE GRATITUDE:

If you tell yourself all the things your grateful for every time you feel anything negative to try to turn your feelings around, then you're doing it wrong. Sure, sometimes it might actually help because you'll realize your bad feelings aren't so bad, but mostly it just acts like Happiness did in Inside Out, trying to shove Sadness into a corner and force every memory to be happy. What was the result? Sadness ran (very lethargically) amok and the more Happiness tried to suppress it, the worse things got.

Feelings exist for a reason, my friends! Yes, sometimes we are overblown in our reactions, but if something has happened to make us happy or sad or angry or hopeful or some weird mixture, then we should let ourselves feel it!

Gratitude isn't there to turn that one specific frown upside down or pretend that darker emotions don't exist. It's about the a big picture. It helps turn your default from a bitchy resting face to a contented smile, if you will.

THE RIGHT WAY TO USE GRATITUDE:

Find things to be grateful for every day and let that change your overall perspective. Bad things still suck - you can't just shove some heart-shaped, rose-coloured glasses on the fact that your friend seems to be ghosting on you - but you'll have a cushier foundation of appreciation for life as a whole to lie on while you feel bummed out.

There are so many ways to help yourself find things to be grateful for, and most involve some model of writing them down every day: a point form list, a fulsome journal entry, a Facebook update. It's also fun to actually thank a person every day who has contributed to something you are grateful for. So much shared goodness!

Sure, occasionally it's helpful to put our situation into perspective and remember that our sadness is not the great, sucking void that will eat up the entire universe and that there are some good things out there. Sometimes we can change the way we are looking at something and start to appreciate it. But there's a difference between that and forcing ourselves into some fake gratitude when we really feel like crap.


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