It only works if it's honest.
The holidays are upon us and everywhere you turn someone's going on and on about "gratitude!"
And why not, right? There are so many reasons to feel grateful and joyful ... reasons, both large and small — we live in a free country, food is easily accessible, beauty surrounds us, etc.
But maybe you’re not feeling so grateful?
You do everything experts say will lead to happiness — practicing random acts of kindness, listing happy thoughts every morning, writing down what you're thankful for every night, and saying strong positive affirmations about yourself and your life every day. But, you're still not feeling it?
Then, stop! Yes, seriously. Just stop.
Why? Because you simply cannot fake or force feeling grateful or happy.
Instead, start with where you are. Whatever you're honestly feeling is authentic and worthwhile.
In fact, in the extreme, suppressing emotions repeatedly over long periods of time — rather than acknowledging them — can even result in post traumatic stress disorder. So love yourself enough to let your feelings stand as they are. You don't have to wallow in them forever, but faking your way out of difficult emotions never works in the long term.
Now, if you feel miserable and truly want to feel happier now, start by focusing on how you truly feel and examine whether there’s a message or gift in it somehow for you. Is there a kernel of insight, wisdom, or inspiration? Did you learn something valuable from a hard situation? Where is there a speck of light in your dark feelings? Just start with that.
Why you feel down in the first place:
Usually an inability to feel thankful has an origin in disappointment. So, here are a few questions to help you figure out if disappointment is robbing you of a more positive outlook:
1. Did something or someone disappoint you?
Is there a disconnect somewhere between what matters most to you and the people and activities that fill your life? Where are you feeling disillusioned or let down?
2. If so, what can you actually do about it?
Can you tackle the situation and actually change it? If yes, then do so. If, no, well then ... how about changing your reaction?
Decide how you want to feel. Sure, you can stay disappointed. Or, you can inch your way towards contentment, and maybe, eventually, gratitude by choosing to see the situation a new way. (Remember that "speck of light" I mentioned above?)
3. What can you feel authentically grateful for right this moment?
Forget lame platitudes, "gratitude journals", random acts of kindness, or whatever others do to show their gratitude.
Maybe your version of gratitude is that you're absolutely delighted by the smell of your morning coffee, your friendly corner store, your one friend, the freedom you feel on a morning run, or your dog or cat. Stay with what is true for you, and decide what makes you feel truly happy and alive. And then just notice that thing more often.
That's all. That's it. That's all you have to do to start.
Eventually, you may find yourself feeling grateful for the disappointment you suffered. But for right now, feeling grateful for your coffee, your cat, and a great morning run is plenty.
Because ... it's honest!
True gratitude is a feeling that embraces every aspect of us; it's authentic. Start by just being truly thankful for what you feel now — no matter how you feel, and no matter how minor it seems.
Jan L. Bowen is an author and certified thought leader, passionate about working with proactive individuals who are thoughtful leaders in their own life, committed to living their vision and life purpose. Her book, It’s Not That Complicated: How to Create a Personalized Template of Alignment is available now.