How many times have you heard that practising gratitude is, like, the keystone habit for sustained happiness? If you have been anywhere close to a computer in the past couple of years, probably more than you really cared for. For me, who suffers from serious professional overexposure to this kind of content, the repetitiveness is nauseating.
Especially because I’d say it’s safe to bet that many people educating themselves on happiness do so because THEY’RE NOT HAPPY. Duh.
Maybe the fault’s all mine, but skipping steps up the emotional ladder from feeling lost & sad to “I’m so grateful” isn’t something that works well when my momentum is already gravitating towards couch, comfort & chocolate cookies with thick layers of peanut butter. Telling myself that I really should feel grateful for all I have just adds another pound of guilt and shame.
The idea itself is spot on: It IS possible to train our gratitude muscle until we gratefully embrace even the most difficult situations. But, again, how likely is it that I’ll have the amount of willpower needed for diligent, sustained practice of my new gratitude habit when I’m feeling like shit? When all I seem to have is a mountain of to do’s and not an ounce of gratitude for having to do them?
Unsurprisingly, I offer a remedy in addition to the rant:
Let’s take this morning: So I’ve raised the bar again, gotten up at 4am for the first time, worked out, had a cold shower, outdoors, in the middle of the night (I wonder if the change in timing makes the neighbors, on average, more or less likely to have me committed. The protective leaf cover surrounding the garden is pretty much gone with the gale.)…..etc.
I’m writing, trying to pick apart the intricacies of embracing pain and describing the perfect path to becoming a true Spartan in spirit, but keep being dismayed by noticing that I really have to write about a dozen other articles first to even lay the foundations for generating a true insight instead of verbiage.
I won’t bother you with the irony of the amount of pain that writing about pain is causing me…
So – how likely is it that I’ll pause and say to myself “I’m so grateful that I get to write about what I love, and to be able to do it in peace, quiet and beautiful surroundings….etc.”?
I’d sign every one of those words in blood, they’re so true, BUT – In that state, feeling sorry for myself and anguished that this day seems to be slipping towards futility, I would not be able to come up with them, let alone believe that they are true, which is reaaaaally useful if I want to feel gratitude instead of just saying the words.
So, what saved me? Stumbling across the draft of this article on practising gratitude vs. celebration:
Maybe I can’t feel grateful with whatever I’m supposed to be doing, but I CAN CELEBRATE IT!
By celebrating, I mean neither the lighted candle, nor the cup of tea or the Zen piano music playing (Thank you, Kourosh!) , but typing with the air of a monkey who’s acutely aware that he’s just penning the Completed Works of Shakespeare and making a grand show out of it.
Even when I’m feeling shitty I can act, physically, like I’m celebrating the hell out of this moment (exorcism, anyone?). And the best part: Pretending to feel gratitude for what I’m experiencing makes things worse. But celebrating it in a completely exaggerated, sardonic, fake manner is just what is needed to make it work:
It takes the seriousness out of my state.
Remember that bit about angels being able to fly (a.k.a. being happy, successful and incredibly attractive), because they take themselves lightly? This is why developing a good sense of humour and not taking ourselves too serious is so incredibly important, and how celebrating whatever we are experiencing is the key to apply that bit of wisdom.
Want to know what I do when my dogs decide that it’s once again time to boldly go in search of the limits of my patience? (Even though they’ve tutored me a hundred thousand times in that particular virtue, they still deem it necessary to add frequent refreshers. Especially on days when I’m already on the far side of serenity.)
I scold them. I yell at them. I threaten them with turning them into cat food. (That one usually gets their attention. Might be they’re misinterpreting the connection between the words “cat” and “food”, though.)
I pounce on them, I lose it, completely and utterly. All of it in the manner of a cross between Queen Mum, Andy Warhol’s gay-er twin, and Hulk Hogan doing his pre-match-huff-puff-and-eyeroll-routine.
The latter two are eerily similar. Probably a tautology, now that I think of it. Well. Anyway:
Celebration is Gratitudes extrovert sister. And she’s really fun to have around :-)
It’s funny how an emotional state that seemed set in stone can be switched at a moments notice — simply by celebrating the act of typing on a keyboard.
Have you noticed that, when you’re really hammering home a point, hitting your stride in creating a presentation or whatever it is you do on your computer — your fingers start moving in a different manner? There is a rhythm, an intensity, a racing of fingers over tiny clicking keys. There may even be the occasional flourish, of lifting a finger, hitting the “Enter” key with a grander movement than necessary, etc.
Now, next time you’re at it, please try celebrating the act of typing on your keyboard before you hit the flow. Type in that intense, grandiose rhythm, and see how your mind likes following your body. (It’s more likely to comply if you allow your mind to think that it ordered the body to move that way. I suggest you celebrate puzzling over that one ;-))
You get the principle:
Exaggerate the physical part of whatever you’re doing to the point where it breaks the tension and you start feeling some (comic) relief. The key: Make it physical. (<- Please click on that link.)
If you’d like to act on it, but feel already pretty grateful about things right now, here’s a suggestion:
– Make a list of three typical situations where you’d like to test out celebrating instead of suffering it out, the next time it happens.
– Play it out in your mind, see and feel and hear what celebrating it into oblivion will look like.
– Remember to allow yourself to do it when the time comes.
Of course, there may be some situations where you’d prefer not to be seen celebrating, lest people put you in a straight jacket. So practice alone, at first. If you do it in your car, no one will notice — apparently, the weirdest behaviours become completely acceptable once the engine starts.
And soon, you’ll be able to do it all inside. The mere thought movie of celebrating it out loud will allow you to switch your focus and emotional state. You could even celebrate the practice of gratitude, while you’re at it. The usual recommendation involves making a habit of writing down five things, or more, that you feel grateful for. With celebration on your side, that could be a breeze.
(So. Did I just write another post on how the feel grateful? Oh, the irony…)
Much love, c