Last week I took you along with me on the coach ride from Hell. I described the small miracle that occurred when I chose gratitude over resistance and complaining. And I told you that choosing gratitude felt cheesy and Polly Anna-ish and fake. Why is that?
I’ve come up with four reasons why gratitude feels wrong and foreign. I’m sure there are more, so please bring ‘em on in the comments!
- Gratitude feels unfamiliar. Our brains are hard-wired for negativity – the “negativity bias.” The human nervous system, writes Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, “scans for, reacts to, stores, and recalls negative information about oneself and one’s world. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The natural result is a growing – and unfair – residue of emotional pain, pessimism, and numbing inhibition in implicit memory.” So it’s normal and natural to notice and focus on the negative. It’s how we kept ourselves safe in the age of the Pleistocene.
- Gratitude feels conspicuous. We live in a culture of criticism. Our media pays a lot of attention to disasters and threats, and not just conservative outlets like Fox News. Our local evening news is full of scary stuff. And liberal commentators like Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore make their living skewering people they’ve decided are wrong. (I usually agree with them.) Gratitude stands out in a sea of negativity.
- Gratitude looks and sounds stupid, at least to me. I think in my family “smart” sounded like criticism and sarcasm and judgment. Keeping up a running commentary on what’s wrong and how we could do it better is what intelligence sounds like to me. I know this is nuts, yet it’s in there pretty deep. I’m working on it.
- Gratitude feels dangerous, if we believe that it’s our negativity and judgment and criticism that keep us safe. I wonder if we believe that if we drop the constant scoping for what’s wrong, we’ll find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and going places we don’t want to go. “I’d better remember that I don’t like x or I’ll find myself doing x all the time!”
So there are a few reasons why I think gratitude sometimes feels cheesy and fake and dumb and hard. I’d love to hear yours in the comments. Next week, I’ll share reasons why I believe gratitude is a better choice than resistance and complaining, for our minds, bodies, and souls.