Going Against the Gratitude Grain

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Gratitude does wonders for our short-term and long-term emotional and mental health. 

And everyone is (endlessly) talking about gratitude journaling – because it works.  But…not for me. And I wonder if I am not the only one. 

There is a mountain of research showing that gratitude journaling clears toxic emotions, has a positive effect on mental health regardless of whether or not you share your feelings of gratitude, and has long-term beneficial effects on brain activity.

When people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to feelings of guilt to help a cause.  When people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. (Greater Good, 2017)

Everyone’s Doing It (which usually means I don’t want to)

The most popular form of practicing gratitude daily is gratitude journaling.  I think it gets mentioned more frequently than anything else than perhaps Marie Kondo’s decluttering methods (which seems to find its way into every article on the internet regardless of the topic – including this one. 😉)

There is one problem anytime anything is recommended for everyone to do by everyone.  There is no one approach to anything in life that works for everyone. 

I have discovered I am one of the weirdos for whom gratitude journaling does not work.  I have tried it and my reaction is a flat “Meh.”  To be clear, I am still in 100% support of gratitude journaling for those people who benefit from it.

But I have found that doing some random thing for people lights up the same parts of me that the other 99.9% of the world seems to get activated from gratitude journaling.

I reflected on my problem with gratitude journaling and I discovered that my problem with it is that it is focused on me.  You write down stuff you are grateful for in your journal with your pen, ostensibly because he/she/it is of benefit to you and makes your life better.  This just has never felt right for me.

I randomly offered to clean my neighbor’s gutters last fall while I cleaned my own.  I did not start the day thinking I would offer that.  More recently, I started chopping firewood after coming into a big haul of free wood from some downed trees near where I live.  I have a neighbor who is running low on his wood and has been dealing with some on/off back issues recently.  Some of the wood I chopped, I just quietly stacked in his yard as a surprise. 

If you have read anything I’ve written or heard me speak for even a few minutes, you know that I believe fitness is a form of freedom – a freedom to do what you want to and not have to worry about your body. 

And I figured out that for me, if I express my gratitude for my health and physical fitness by using that ability to do something for someone else, it feels like the perfect way to tangibly give life to gratitude in the real world. 

Individual results may vary.  This may or may not apply to you. I just realized this about myself recently and knew it was time to share it since there may be others out there who don’t quite feel in sync with gratitude journaling for whatever reason.  (And one more time…to be clear…I am not against gratitude journaling and I fully support it for those who find benefit from doing it.)

It is all right if something that catches on with everyone does not work for you (like me with Marie Kondo – ugh, enough already.) There is nothing wrong with you if gratitude journaling does not do it for you.

But there is some way of expressing and celebrating gratitude in your life that does work for you.  And the benefits of connecting with gratitude are significant so think about ways of exploring and expressing gratitude that do work for you. 

Ultimately, you will make your brain – and the world – a better place.

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