I read in the New York Times that being grateful is good for my mental health, so for the past two weeks, I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal in which I write down five things for which I am grateful each day. Let’s see if it’s helped my brain feel better, shall we?
According to the New York Times, “Cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’ has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.”
Super! But I’m also suspicious of all of this positive gratitude. As Barbara Ehrenriech says in her wonderful Bright Sided, “But we cannot levitate ourselves into that blessed condition by wishing it. We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.”
Because, Ehrenriech points out, life kind of sucks for people most of the time and we’d do well to recognize that there are things we can do to make life better for everyone so that we don’t have to worry about gratitude journals or positive thinking – life will just simply be better.
But until that happens, I’m going to see if my mental health improves if I try to keep track of the good things. One symptom of depression is not being able to recognize the good, so maybe a way to combat the dark feelings that generally haunt me is to say to myself each day, “These five things are really good.”
Of course, the queen of positive, Oprah, recommends, “As more of your thoughts and words become positive, you’ll start attracting more positive people and circumstances.”
Yeah, um, that’s bullshit. I want to combine the benefits of being grateful (less depression!) with the wisdom of realizing that sometimes a situation is bad and you need to make it better. I want my Oprah with a little Ehrenreich. So I embarked on a modified gratitude journal. For every thing I was thankful for, I wrote down something I could do to improve my life.
For example, I am thankful for my mom being a generally awesome lady and for being there for me when I most needed it. To improve my situation, I’m going to call my best friend for dinner so I have some company.
So did it work? You know, it did. I felt better. Of course, this isn’t a truly scientific experiment since I had two tactics for feeling better. Was it saying I am thankful for my mom or calling my bestie for some wahn and conversation? I’m okay with it being a combination of both.
So, what has your experience been with gratitude?