OK, so I don’t have a gratitude journal (or a fireplace). I was just going for a dramatic title.
There seems to be a trend in popular psychology towards content that goes like this: “Happy people think/do x and unhappy people think/do y, so get out there and start thinking/doing x if you want to be happy.” Happy people supposedly feel grateful for things in their life, so we are supposed to try to make that feeling happen by writing down things that we are grateful for.
If this works for you, then I’m not going to stop you. However, the deliberately practiced phrases bear little resemblance to the real experience of gratitude. The theory goes that if you keep practising gratitude in small ways, eventually the experience will show up in your life. The problem with that is….most people have the habit of hiding their real feelings, from others and even from themselves.
(How to tell if you are hiding your feelings? If you feel stress for more than a short period of time or that doesn’t lead to a rewarding outcome; overeat/drink/drug/shop/gossip to relieve stress; have any kind of “bad habit” from minor to major that you have trouble breaking; have anxiety or depression; and/or tend towards emotional outbursts….you are probably hiding your real feelings.)
So, if a habit of hiding your real feelings is how you got into your predicament in the first place, a deliberate attempt to feel some way that you don’t actually feel is not the best place to start. It could lead to even greater inner conflict (= anxiety).
So what is the alternative?
1) Feel what you feel, and don’t apologize for it. This could mean keeping a Complaints Journal! More on that here. (Feeling your feelings doesn’t mean you necessarily act on them; it could be as simple as saying to yourself ”You know what, I feel really angry right now.” and watching what happens.)
2) Generate the underlying conditions that allow change to happen. Rather than concerning yourself with a specific result like gratitude, work on generating the causes of that result. In other words, do things that support you as a whole person. It’s not necessarily about feeling good right away; it could also be a practice that doesn’t always feel good while you’re doing it but you see the results in the long term (For me that includes yoga, SRI, singing, dance, supportive relationships)
A way to brainstorm what would support you as a whole person: you can ask yourself, what activities, practices and experiences nourish me mentally? physically? emotionally? spiritually?
Don’t take my word for it – experiment. See if you feel more energy, more movement, less stagnation (feeling better or more comfortable is not necessarily a sign that it’s working; the question to ask might be whether or not you feel more freedom).