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When gratitude fails

A table set for a feast but no food is served or wine poured

Confession: I hate gratitude journals. Every so often, I try keeping one and almost like clockwork, my tone sours from optimism to sarcasm in five days or less.

I’ve tried so many different types of gratitude journaling – bulleted lists, full sentences, pre-formatted booklets, lyric paragraphs – but the results were always the same, until…

Last December, I attended a free workshop by Myree Morsi on the Art of Receiving. Our capacity to truly receive, she said, depends on our capacity to fully appreciate what is given. But she cautioned us away from mere gratitude, which can feel hollow like wishful thinking. Instead, she recommended measuring appreciation by cultivating a sense of satisfaction.

I’ve experimented with satisfaction a lot in the past year, and to my amazement, it seems to be immune to the types of cynicism and pessimism that inevitably corrupt my attempts at gratitude. To be satisfied with something is an embodied, felt experience, whereas to feel grateful for something is too easily just an intellectual exercise.

Take a good meal as an example: To feel grateful for the meal is different than to feel satisfied by it. To be grateful doesn’t require participation. You can look around and enjoy the smells, but to feel satisfied requires an investment of experience. Maybe you’ve eaten to the point of appropriate fullness – not too much, not too little. Maybe you’ve invested time and effort into preparing it. Maybe you’re enjoying the full sensory experience of the meal including the company of the people with whom you share it.

I’ve tried to hack satisfaction and ruin it in the same ways I can ruin gratitude, but trust me: It doesn’t work. Satisfaction might be unhackable. You either feel it or you don’t, and when you do, you should stop and notice because it is an immensely rich feeling – probably the exact tone of appreciation that gratitude journals hope to inspire.

So this Thanksgiving, as you take stock of your life, your achievements, your relationships or your opportunities, don’t worry about feeling thankful for them. Try feeling satisfied by them instead. And allow it to really sink in.

To that end, here is what I am satisfied with this year:

Happy Thanksgiving! May you find peace and satisfaction this holiday season.

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