Tis’ the season to express thanks, but I’ve got two major pet peeves with how we show gratitude…and a super crazy radical alternative for Thanksgiving!
Pet Peeve #1 – Gratitude Journals
Gratitude journals are all the rage among the new agey jet set – writing down all of the things for which we are (or should be) grateful in order to boost our happiness. The intention behind gratitude journals is well meaning. When you are feeling out of sorts, depressed, frustrated, whatever, gratitude journals are put forth as a nifty solution to cure your ungrateful soul. Really, the problem is simply that you don’t count your blessings, or is it?
Sure, that might be the case that we often don’t look around and take stock of how lucky we are. However, when we list the things we are grateful for – having a roof over our heads, having a boyfriend/girlfriend, a job that pays the bills (maybe even a job we love), our reputations, the community we live in, etc etc – those things are typically extrinsic. And they are out of our control. And they are impermanent.
Jobs can be lost. Houses destroyed. People leave or die. Sounds depressing, si? Yet, this is life and holding on with gratitude to these things does not necessarily make us any happier. Making lists simply does not change the way we feel on a daily basis (but if it does actually for you, then keep on doing it!).
Keep reading…I promise it will get better.
Pet Peeve #2 – Posthumous Outpouring of Gratitude
I have seen a number of high profile athletes in extreme sports die doing what they loved (like BASE jumper Dean Potter or professional ski mountaineer Liz Daley) or die too young from something else (like the well loved Bela Vadasz, owner of Alpine Skills International, who died far to young of a heart attack). They are well known and well loved and leave a gap in lives that extend beyond their inner circles.
Social media blows up with well meaning RIPs and well wishes to those left behind. Tribute articles, memorial videos, blog posts, and Facebook posts pop up about how wonderful the person was who has passed, how much that person impacted their lives, and how they wished they could have told them in person.
Seeing the posthumous explosion actually makes me boil over with anger. Writing tributes and making memorial videos does not make them or us any happier. The person who is gone will never know all of these wonderful things that were said about them.
Honoring the dead IS important – it helps us process our grief and shows respect to the survivors.
However, it’s far more important to honor the living – THAT spreads happiness. One of the only posthumous blog posts I’ve ever really appreciated is one in Adventure Journal – a friend left behind talks about how his behavior has changed to honor the living as a result of his loss.
One Alternative – A New Thanksgiving (or Daily!) Ritual
Try this at your Thanksgiving meal tomorrow. Focus on one person at the table as the receiver of gratitude. Go around and one by one each person tells the gratitude received what they appreciate about them. Each person will have a chance to tell everyone what they appreciate, as well as be appreciated.
Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? So wild that telling others what we appreciate is such a personal act of vulnerability. But consider the impact it can have on that loved one…to know what you like about them and how they have impacted you.
Now ponder the opposite…the regret you feel when someone dies, when kind and loving things are left unsaid or you remember the last interaction you had with them was a fight or an unkind word – it is actually far more difficult and painful than being vulnerable with them.
I would pick vulnerability over regret any day, as difficult as it might seem in the moment. Regret is a real bitch and it can haunt you.
So radical yet so basic. Tell your loved ones and friends why you love them. Don’t wait. Do it on Thanksgiving. Do it now. Do it the next day. Keep doing it.
So put those lists away and start honoring the living. Loving and being loved is the true key to happiness.