SEREN­ITY NOW

This Thanks­giv­ing, give your­self a men­tal break.

Canadian Living - - Contents - TEXT LIZA FIN­LAY IL­LUS­TRA­TION WENTING LI LIZA FIN­LAY IS A REG­IS­TERED PSYCHOTHERAPIST AND AU­THOR OF LOST & FOUND: THE SPIR­I­TUAL JOUR­NEY OF WOMEN AT MIDLIFE.

Give your­self a men­tal break from grat­i­tude

THANKS­GIV­ING is a time for, well, giv­ing thanks. It’s no won­der, then, that as Oc­to­ber rolls around, grat­i­tude (from the Latin gra­tus, to be thank­ful) be­comes grist for the men­tal health mill. And sure, with­out doubt, grat­i­tude is great. But like any mag­i­cal elixir, there can be too much of a good thing, and dou­bling down on giv­ing thanks some­times leads to an un­healthy emo­tional hang­over: grat­i­tude guilt.

This is the name I give to that in­sid­i­ous byprod­uct of the thanks-giv­ing trend. It sounds like this: “I should be more grate­ful for [in­sert favourite brand of guilt here].” “I should stop fo­cus­ing on the neg­a­tive and be more grate­ful for [ev­ery­thing, al­ways].”

The Thanks­giv­ing sea­son packs a should­load of grat­i­tude guilt. It’s a flavour of self­loathing that comes from not be­ing grate­ful enough to meet some myth­i­cal bar. It’s also a mas­ter ma­nip­u­la­tor; it not only erodes our self-worth by keep­ing us fix­ated on fail­ures and im­per­fec­tions but also dis­tracts us from the true source of our pain. By telling our­selves that we should be more grate­ful, we put the brakes on any soul search­ing that takes us into painful, un-nav­i­gated ter­rain. We deny the in­tu­itive voice that’s try­ing to tell us some­thing is wrong.

For ex­am­ple, in­stead of star­ing into the face of your soul-sap­ping job, you tell your­self to be grate­ful you have a job when so many are un­em­ployed. Or, rather than lean into the lack of in­ti­macy in your mar­riage, you re­mind your­self that lots of your friends are fac­ing di­vorce.

What do I rec­om­mend? Stop should­ing on your­self. Sure, be grate­ful. There’s am­ple data to support grat­i­tude as a key com­po­nent of men­tal health. In fact, a re­cent meta-anal­y­sis of 91 grat­i­tude stud­ies revealed sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing in­creased proso­cial be­hav­iour (the abil­ity to have and main­tain friend­ships), em­pa­thy and for­give­ness. Some re­search sug­gests that prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude boosts a sense of well-be­ing and de­creases de­pres­sion.

So, by all means, cul­ti­vate an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what’s right in your world, but do it with­out be­ing wil­fully blind to what isn’t quite right. This Thanks­giv­ing, how about tak­ing your dose of grat­i­tude with an equal shot of courage? How about go­ing into the lion’s den to face what scares you? How about giv­ing the lit­tle voice you like to ig­nore a mega­phone? This isn’t a zero-sum game; you can value what you have and still ac­knowl­edge things that re­quire fix­ing. You can fo­cus on the pos­i­tive and still un­pack that should-load of bag­gage you’re car­ry­ing around. Then, you can thank your­self.

By telling our­selves that we should be more grate­ful, we put the brakes on any soul search­ing that takes us into painful, un-nav­i­gated ter­rain.

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