your friend has a new wellness routine: gratitude edition

I think often about the wellness industry—the CBD startups, the essential oil MLMs, the influencers and coaches and self-proclaimed “gurus.” So many people have turned away from medical treatment thanks to the for-profit disaster that is the American healthcare system, and a new set of capitalistic vultures have swooped in to sell their healing teas and apps and supplements. I think about how many wellness practices and products are useful, but how difficult it can be to find the tools that might really make a difference when all these ideas are constantly being twisted or blown out of proportion or hidden behind smoke-and-mirror marketing until we’re not even sure what we’re looking at anymore.

The wellness industry tends to lean on pop psychology, to take a therapeutic principle or cultural practice and strip away the nuance and substance and context until it doesn’t mean much anymore.

Gratitude seems to be one of those things. In its most diluted form, it can feel a lot like toxic positivity. If you’re told to practice gratitude every time you experience hardship, discover yourself in the midst of a depressive episode, or feel adrift in the trauma that has disrupted the timeline of your life, it can seem dismissive. In some cases, it may be dismissive. In the wrong hands, hands that benefit from your serotonin and have no use for your grief, it can be a rejection of your needs, a denial of your reality.

Gratitude is not meant to overtake the pain of your life. It’s not a blanket you throw over the mirror into your emotional landscape. To me, and I am no expert, it’s an opportunity to make space for feelings of hopelessness, frustration, stagnation, envy, self-doubt, etc., while remembering that we are also loved and loving, that we have met goals both big and small, that we are allowed our simple pleasures—that no matter the circumstances, we have value.

All of this to say, your friend had a new wellness routine in February, and that friend was me and that wellness routine was—surprise!—gratitude.

February was kind of an all-over-the-place month for me.

I traveled with Sean to Tennessee to stay with my best friend, her husband, and their daughter (our two-year-old niece). I applied for a fiction reader position with Split Lip Mag and got it (!!!!!!!). The sun came back, oh my god, the sun came back.

Things piled up. I started looking for a new job. For the first time, I felt really, really nervous about the state of the industry I work in. I got a sinus infection and was forced to a halt for a week. I recovered and realized that I had gone emotionally numb to cope with the whiplash of high highs and low lows.

It was the right month, I think, for gratitude. It was also a hard month for gratitude.

My goal was to write down three things I was grateful for every day—and if I forgot to do that, to type three things I was grateful for in my notes app—and if I forgot to do that, to think about the moments of gratitude I’d naturally experienced throughout my day—and if I forgot to do that, to just let it go and try again the next day.

On the days I felt most ungrounded, the gratitude practice became less a reminder of joy and more of an anchor, a refusal to get lost in my own fear: “I am grateful to have more faith in myself now than I used to.” “I am grateful to have the ability to sit with my emotions and let them pass.” “I am grateful to feel loved even when I don’t feel sure of anything else.” It became less about the things I have or the things that are going well and more about the qualities of myself that I refuse to relinquish in the face of fear of the future or self-doubt.

I don’t want to sit here and say that each time I pushed myself to record three things, it changed the entire course of my day or lifted my mood or boosted my confidence. It didn’t, not every time.

But it did some of the time. Enough times that I think I’ll keep doing it, at least when it occurs to me that my thoughts are spiraling and require disruption or rerouting. Forcing myself to think kinder, softer, more generous thoughts about myself and the contours of my life did seem to keep me from burrowing into that restrictive place of self-doubt. Did I land a dream job or get ahold of every little task on what feels like a constantly expanding to-do list? No. But I did give myself more grace. I did hype myself up. I kept moving forward, and I’m still moving forward, and I’m proud of myself for it.

Do I recommend that you start a gratitude practice? I recommend that you take it if you want it. I recommend that you think kinder, softer, more generous thoughts about yourself. That you remember that no matter the circumstances, you have value. You are loved. You’ve accomplished so much already. And it’s okay that sometimes you still feel sad, alone, afraid. We’re not here to pretend like we’re always happy or that all of our needs are always met. I can’t say that I know exactly why we’re here, but I do believe that we deserve to feel our own love as often as we can.

And no, not all of my month of daily gratitude was so serious. “I am grateful that my cats are so cute.” “I am grateful that Sean likes to do the dishes.” “I am grateful to have loved ones who make me laugh every day.” I’d sort of hoped that what I’d be sharing with you was a month of feeling cheerful about my favorite mugs and the birds in the sky and the pleasant exchanges between myself and passersby. When I first started writing this post, I wondered if I should skip over the vulnerable truth of my month of gratitude and give you something funny, light, easy to digest. But then I realized that if I did that, I’d be reinforcing the very same pop psychology idea that gratitude asks you to ignore the pain and focus your attention squarely on what’s palatable. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, even if the alternative meant procrastinating, feeling uncomfortable, struggling to find the words to describe this experience (and, to a large degree, failing).

Anyway, reader, I’m grateful for you. We’ve got two months of wellness routines behind us, and I hope you’ll stick around for the next one. Until then, *insert a catchphrase I didn’t develop from the start and feel weird developing now.*

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