I’ve been accused of and called a lot of things in my lifetime, as I’m sure we all have. Ungrateful is the one that stings the most. I think I’m naturally an overly thankful person. Every day I marvel at all the wonderful things in the world I have to be thankful for, some small, some big. I’m grateful for everything from a butterfly, to my education, my parents, and my pink toenail polish. I’m even grateful for the bad things in my life, as they have helped me grow stronger and learn important lessons.
Several years back, as I was studying Positive Psychology, I came across the teachings of Martin Seligman and his website authentichappiness.org. On his website is a list of self-surveys that measure things like well-being, hope, and future mindedness. One of the surveys, the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, identifies what your top character strengths are. The things you score the lowest on are not weaknesses, they simply aren’t your greatest strengths, but strengths nevertheless. Of no surprise to me, although I was very pleased with the results, my top strength was gratitude. Knowing this might help me explain something that left me feeling angry and hurt. I was in a meeting recently and was thanking someone for something she had done for me. This person isn’t the friendliest of people and not the easiest to get along with. As I was literally in the middle of expressing my appreciation, she interrupted me to say, “Kristi, can’t you ever say thank you for anything?” This was hurtful and embarrassing, and obviously still bothers me since I’ve found the need to write about it several weeks after the fact. Ironically, I had tried a few days earlier to thank her for something else and was cut off mid-sentence to be put in my place that time also. After the meeting incident, the other attendees, who witnessed the uncomfortable moment, came to me in shock to ask what that was all about, which I couldn’t explain as I had no idea. They reassured me that she’s a thoughtless person and never very pleasant to anyone. Being the target of her rudeness however, their kind support didn’t make me feel any better. I felt like I was back in middle school being bullied.
In my first counseling position I was tasked with seeing mostly kids. That meant I also saw their parents. When assessing the kids upon our first meeting, I would take down all the information necessary to get a good idea of what was going on which typically meant the parent would spend most of the hour telling me everything their child did wrong or wasn’t doing that he or she should be doing. I would always end the assessment with asking the parents (remember, the child is present) what they liked about their son or daughter or what their son or daughter does well. The result was usually one of two things. The parents would tell me, “That’s not why we’re here” or they would say “nothing”. I don’t mean they would not answer me, I mean they would say their child did nothing well. This would prompt me to encourage the parent to look for things their child does well and make note of it. They didn’t usually like this and didn’t follow through. There’s a reason for me asking them to do this. If you look at all the negative, that’s all you’re going to see. The negative will build and grow and eventually overshadow and wipe out all the good so you’re not able to see it anymore. The same is true for the opposite. If you look for the good in things, you will see more of it and the bad starts to fade away or at least not seem so overpowering. Even as a new counselor I was geared towards positive psychology and didn’t even know it.
You’ve probably heard of gratitude journals. A gratitude journal is nothing complex or difficult. It’s simply writing something down each day that you’re grateful for. It could be one thing, or a list. It could be something as simple as the fact that dinner turned out well or something more important such as, your loved one came through surgery with a good prognosis. I like to write down my gratitudes at night. It helps me put the day into perspective and fall asleep on a good note. It helps me see that even though it may have been a bad day there were also good things among the bad and those are the things I will try to hold on to. My gratitude journal entry might look something like this:
- I got support from coworkers today
- Trooper didn’t have a seizure
- I saw a hummingbird
- The sun was shining
It’s easy. Anyone can do it. Notice I wrote down that I got support from coworkers today. That helps me ignore the rudeness I was the brunt of and focus on the good that came from it. No, this doesn’t make life all rosy and perfect. Well, maybe a little more rosy. It does help me be more positive and grateful. As I said before, I tend to be a very grateful person anyways. I’m grateful for everything given to me, done for me, everything I have, the beautiful world around me, and even the bad, for those things taught me something. I’m hypersensitive to criticism and people not liking me so when I experience something that I perceive as a threat to my person, I automatically take it to the extreme and go into self-deprecation mode. Everyone hates me. I am terrible. There’s something wrong with me. I’ve had this problem my entire life and have worked on it my entire life. I think I will still be working on it the day I die. I am getting better though. Through gratitude, I can see things in a more positive light. I never needed help being grateful but I have always needed help with my confidence and self-esteem. Practicing my gratitude on a daily basis helps me focus on the good, yes, even the good in me. There is good in me. Lots of it.
We can even be grateful for the bad things. I’ve recently had health issues that have caused tremendous, on-going pain that limits my abilities and daily functioning. For a long time I was angry and felt sorry for myself. What did I do to deserve this? Does anybody deserve to suffer? But if I really think about it, as much as I hate what I’m going through, I can think of good things to be grateful for. This experience has helped me see what chronic pain feels like for others. It’s helped me talk less and listen more. It’s helped me to be more understanding. It’s helped me realize how important my health is. It’s helped me be a better counselor.
Sometimes I let others determine my value and worth. I take things so personally I punish myself due to my perception of other people’s thoughts. In reality, don’t know what other people’s thoughts are, nor should I care. I have to take care of me, believe in me, and have confidence in me. You’ve probably all heard the saying, “Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business”. If I worry about what others think of me I will spend my life feeling like gum on the bottom of a shoe, because I am automatically drawn to the negative. I chose to be grateful. Even grateful for myself. As for the person who couldn’t accept my gratitude, I don’t care. I won’t waste my time trying to please her. I’ll please myself and be grateful for that.