How to Be Grateful When You Don’t Feel Like It

I have a feeling that Thanksgiving might feel a bit strange to many people this year. This is normally the time we think of what we’re grateful for and often share it with our closest family and friends. But when it’s been a 2020 kind of year… gratitude may not be the first thing on our minds.

I’m not sure how much you are aware of your dreams when you sleep at night but I often dream vividly. It is not uncommon for me to have some amazing dream and then wake up with a sense of disappointment. In my dreams, I often get into fascinating conversations with people I’ve never met. We start new projects together or talk through ideas. Then I wake up bummed and realize I don’t actually know them.

Recently I woke up with a different feeling.

I had a dream where I was about to marry a girl I knew when I was a kid. Many things were weird about this dream: I never had feelings for this girl growing up, I haven’t seen or thought about her in decades, and I didn’t want to marry her in the dream. In fact, I was confused for most of it as to what was going on.

The turning point of the dream was a realization that I was going to have to not be married to Michelle anymore. A wave of sadness hit me. Why was I doing this? This was a bad trade, and one I didn’t want to make. When I woke up that morning a feeling of overwhelming appreciation came over me. Thank you Jesus it was just a dream. It wasn’t my real life.

In a word, I felt gratitude.

There’s actually a term for this kind of thing, and we can even practice it when we’re awake. It’s called “mental subtraction.” You think of something you enjoy in your life and then mentally imagine what your life would be like without it. It could be your health, or your house, or your job, or a relationship. Then you appreciate that this alternate reality isn’t real. You have the same moment I had as I awoke from my dream.

This may seem a bit dark, but studies have shown it leads to greater satisfaction than simply trying to feel gratitude for what we have.

So as you explore what gratitude may look like for this year, perhaps it’s time to mentally subtract something in your life. We might just realize that even 2020 can’t stop us from gratitude for what is around us.

As you explore what gratitude may look like for this year, perhaps it's time to mentally subtract something in your life and then appreciate that it isn't your reality. Click To Tweet
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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Adjunct Professor | Husband to Michelle | Dad of 5 | Committed Yankees fan

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