The worst thing about Thanksgiving

The worst thing about Thanksgiving is the flood of email, newsletters and essays trying to shove another dose of gratitude down your throat.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m seriously pro-gratitude. Done right, it hooks you up with powerful happy drugs easing their warm soothing glow through your veins.

As far as goofy natural highs go, gratitude is second only to being in love.

But when you’re told you should be feeling grateful, it drains out 99% of the fun. Force-fed gratitude is the worst.

Worse than having to warn your lovely hosts that you are sugar-free and vegetarian (Note to self: bake a loaf of juice-based bread to bring, and plan to wax poetic about the salad).

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

“I should be more grateful, things aren’t that bad, I don’t deserve to be dissatisfied … what’s wrong with me?”

Worse, this pressure to be in a state of gratitude (and the guilt over not being there yet) is only exacerbated by the slew of well-meaning coaches and experts telling you to Think Positive, Delete Negative Words from your Vocabulary, and offering various other annoyingly know-it-all bits of advice.

The good kind of gratitude is the kind that shows up on its own. Out of nowhere you are struck by a glorious sense of remembering.

You suddenly remember how cool it is to be alive, how fortunate you are to be living this life of yours, how beautiful it is to be on your crazy, unique, surprising path. Maybe you even recall that you actually can’t stand the word “path” (as one of my clients says, “ewwwwwww”), and yet here you are using it anyway.

How do you do the whole gratitude thing without annoyance?

When gratitude shows up it feels great. You want more! And like someone in love, you want to share it with the whole world — forgetting in your happiness how irritating that can be to someone who wants to be there too, but doesn’t know how to get there.

Sure, you can build a gratitude habit from scratch, and the way to do it is with gentle compassion, patience and an understanding of how you actually function. Which means that if a healthy dose of cynicism is what you need to make it work for you, bring it on!

The trick to helping these moments appear is to constantly shift your focus to the question: “What can I be doing right now, in this moment, to be developing a conscious relationship with myself?”

Keeping it conscious:

Noticing what’s going on for you in the present moment is part of building a conscious relationship with yourself.

And that is way more important than gratitude. It is the key to gratitude, to self-love, to success and to all sorts of other great things. Keeping it conscious solves half your problems right off the bat.

You see, the “win” is actually not the feeling of gratitude. That’s just the bonus. The real win is noticing what you are feeling and experiencing, and using that knowledge to respond to your pain and needs with understanding and compassion.

Developing this conscious relationship with yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself. Best of all, it doesn’t require gratitude. It yields gratitude. The only thing you need is the honest intention to pay attention — so that every minute can be one in which you learn something about who you are and how you interact with the world around you.

Keeping it honest:

Describe the situation instead of forcing it. DON’T make yourself say, “Oh, I am soooo grateful to the universe for the glory of the present moment!”.

Pay attention because maybe what you really mean is this:

“I am noticing that it’s hard for me right now to feel grateful. I am noticing that I’m feeling hurt because I need my pain and frustration to be acknowledged. I am noticing that I would like to be able to take some more time to work through these feelings before I can access that place of gratitude.”

The funny thing is, when you allow yourself be in this honest place of “not grateful yet” you’re creating an conscious relationship with yourself, a relationship which is going to automatically open up a lot of room for appreciation of yourself and the world around you.

Keeping it kind:

If you notice that you’re beating on yourself again and your response is “Cut that out! No more negative talk and I mean it!”, you’re doing it again.

Berating yourself is not the goal. The goal is to ask, “What is the kindest thing I can bear to hear right now?”.

Instead of tough love, give yourself the kind of love that actually feels good to receive. If you can’t be kind, try acknowledging that and just letting yourself be where you are for now.

Play one of my favorite “Un-Gratitude Games”

Not to be confused with ingratitude games (we’re not total ingrates, we’re just not feeling grateful yet), it’s fun for the whole family, as they say, — or something you can play on your own or with a partner.

Here are some basic guidelines: you don’t have to be grateful for anything, you’re allowed to roll your eyes whenever you feel like it and you can adapt the rules and words to fit your mood and/or personality

The “77 things that don’t absolutely suck” Game

Here’s what you need: two small cups and 77 lentils. If that feels like too many, choose your age (or your grandkid’s age if that wasn’t helpful).

Fill one cup with the lentils. When it’s your turn (and if you play by yourself it’s ALWAYS your turn), you pick up one lentil from the first cup and you say, “The first thing that doesn’t absolutely suck about my life is _____________”. And then you fill in the blank.

It can be anything.

Maybe the fact that you don’t have fur growing on your elbows. Hooray for small miracles. Or that you don’t have a pet elephant who throws up on the floor.

That your eyes work. That you’re still breathing.

The second thing that doesn’t absolutely suck follows the first thing, and you keep going until you reach 77 or whatever number you decided on.

You’ll probably be surprised (I always am) at how many things you think of as well as how coming up with a bunch of them kind of evens out your internal gratitude mechanism.

Then you play this straight through to dreydel season. Or not. You’ll see how it goes.