Whoa, hold the phone. It’s the holidays and my psychological tip is to not try to feel grateful? I must have lost my marbles. No, wait, there they are. Ok, let me explain before someone finds their trusty pitchfork.
Forcing a feeling of gratitude is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t have much substance to it. It’s much like when we force our kiddos to say they’re sorry when they’re nothing of the sort. Much like our kiddos, when we pretend to be grateful, the person receiving that fake gratitude can tell. In short, you can come across as a jerk.
Some say that gratitude is an attitude, and for some, this is true. Some people have a baked in goodness to them where they exude both gratitude and genuine love. If you find someone like this in your life, DON’T LET THEM GO. They’re like unicorns, rare and special. For the rest of us, gratitude is not really an attitude, but a skill that needs to be learned. As a skill, it can be practiced just like you’d practice anything else like painting or playing an instrument. The more you practice, the better and more natural the act of being grateful will become.
How does one go about practicing gratitude, especially for those of us that instead of having baked-in-goodness, have baked-in-snark?
Start small. Identify something or someone that has helped you and acknowledge it. It’s as easy as noticing something you like, like a favorite song or a yummy snack, and thinking something along the lines of, “I like this song. I’m grateful it exists.”
Take a moment to acknowledge how that brief expression of gratitude made you feel. It should feel nice and something you’d want to feel again. Your brain really likes feeling good, and this nice feeling is something that it craves.
Over a series of months of thoughtful gratitude practice, you’ll find you’re less likely to spring to anger or bitterness when things go wrong and instead seek out what good you can find even in a bad situation.
A practice such as this can also help kids who tend to seek out the doom and gloom in every situation. Over time, they can slowly retrain that response to something that will help them manage their anger and anxiety.
Being a grumpy old elf
I’ll admit, when all my kids were young and required every moment of my day to keep them safe and cared for, I got myself into a pretty serious funk of feeling bad for myself. I resented staying home all day and that everyone seemed to be having an easier time of parenting than I did.
One day I decided I’d had enough. Feeling bad for myself wasn’t helping anything, if anything it was making things even harder. What’s worse, the kiddos were picking up on my bad vibes and responding as only kids can, by being even more difficult.
Long story short, I started a daily gratitude practice in my journal in the evenings. In the beginning, it felt weird and forced. But as the weeks went by, I found myself seeking out things to be grateful for so I would have something to write down that evening. After a while, the cloud of mommy gloom lifted enough that I could start seeing the positive side of even the hardest situation.
Do I still get in funks? Absolutely. Life is full of stress and challenges. Hormones definitely don’t help things, and neither do shortening days or the constant anxiety about the current political climate. But if there is one thing I learned from this experiment, it is that I can be in control of how I view and handle each situation.
Discussion question: What are you grateful for now that you weren’t always grateful for?