Sometimes Gratitude Isn’t Enough

I’m all for expressing gratitude. I do it on a daily basis. However, sometimes when life feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket, expressing gratitude feels hard.

Of course I’m grateful I have a home, my health, sweet kids, and so on. But I’ll be honest, I can feel grateful about those things and STILL feel unhappily overwhelmed occasionally.

Those are frustrating times, my friend. That’s when I spiral into a negative vortex which involves me freaking out about a situation, with an additional layer of self reprimand due to my inability to feel grateful for all things that ARE working in my life.

(I believe the actual term for this phenomenon is pity party…but when you’re drunk at one, you hardly care – or even realize that’s what’s going on).

Today I’m sharing a tool I use as a life ring in those situations and I encourage you to keep it handy at the deep end of your emotional swimming pool too.

The Self-Appreciation List

Make a list of at least twelve things you appreciate about yourself. Twelve things that are about you, inside you, uniquely you.

I believe this is slightly different from gratitude.

Gratitude: feeling grateful for things outside you. External things you feel joyful for.

Examples: my home, my family, nutritious food, soft pillows, etc.

Self Appreciation: acknowledging things about yourself that – even if everything you feel grateful for fell away – you’d still be able to count on.

Examples: my creativity, my friendliness, my MacGyver-like resourcefulness, etc.

A while ago I was spinning wildly out of control of my normally positive and upbeat skippity skip. I was majorly frustrated about a situation that wasn’t working out for me.

My first course of action was to scorch through pages of journaling, because getting my thoughts out of my brain and onto paper helps immensely.

From there, I shifted my writing into gratitude.

Aaaaaand I still felt lousy. (This is the part where I usually start beating myself up – since, in reality, my troubles are mostly the first-world variety).

So I pulled out my life ring: The Self Appreciation list.

These Are The Things I Really Like About Myself

  1. I like my style.
  2. I like my sense of humor.
  3. I like that I can sew.
  4. I like that I love to write.
  5. I like the way I cook linguini.
  6. I like that I can create funny, rhyming jingles – spur of the moment.
  7. … and so on.

My self appreciation lists are always different, because (thank goodness) over time I evolve, learn, and explore. My preferences change as I experience life.

Typically when I start a list, I find myself grasping to think of things I actually appreciate about myself. That’s why I don’t go for big humdingers right off the bat.

If I had to make a list of things I’m amazing at, I’m sure I’d start distracting myself. Because in times of negativity, it’s hard to feel amazing at anything.

Instead I keep it light by letting little things bubble to the surface. Simple things. Funny things. Cool things. Sometimes this leads to deep things. But not always. And it’s not necessary.

After I create my list, I’ll keep it with me so I can read and reread it. If circumstances are raging around me and I start ruminating, I’ll direct my focus to my self appreciation list.

I’ll read it aloud, even if I have to whisper it under my breath.

The act of speaking my list tells my brain to cool it – I’m busy at the moment.

And what I’m busy doing is giving my attention to the qualities within me that are not dependent upon external situations.

Naming the things I like about myself gets my brain unstuck by creating a buoyancy that almost always floats me right out of my pool of wonky thoughts.

The other cool thing that happens when I make a self appreciation list is: inspiration.

Acknowledging the things I like about myself typically opens new channels for problem solving that I had previously been closed off from.

Self appreciation is not something that is taught to us and it doesn’t come naturally for most. When I started sharing the idea with my kids during our ride to school one morning by prompting, “Tell me three things you really like about yourself,” they struggled. They told me things outside themselves that they liked. My oldest son even asked, “Mom, isn’t this a little narcissistic?”

“No, I don’t believe it is,” I replied. “The only person that will be with you your entire life is your self. Doesn’t it make sense that you like yourself? You know what you like about your friends, don’t you? Well, I think it’s okay to know what you like about yourself as well.”

As their mom, I was a bit shocked that somewhere on their journey, my kids learned that it wasn’t okay to contemplate what they like about themselves. They learned this is arrogant, self-indulgent. That morning, I gave them permission to not only think about it, but proudly verbalize it. I taught them there is a difference between personally acknowledging something they like about themselves versus incessant self promotion for external validation (hello social media).

When my twelve year old daughter enters the doors of her often drama-filled middle school, I want her mind and heart to be fresh with thoughts and feelings about her innate awesomeness instead of worrying about who will be her partner in gym class.

How about you? Do you take the time to appreciate yourself? Have you given yourself permission to acknowledge the unique ways you are fantastic? It’s a wonderful compliment to your gratitude practice. And I dare say, a super effective tool to pull yourself away from the torrents of negative mind chatter when you’re encountering challenge.

Care to give it a whirl? I invite you to say hello and share three things you really like about yourself in the comments below.


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