A friend of mine recently suggested to me that I start doing a “Gratitude Journal.” The premise is, when you wake up in the morning you list 10 things that you are grateful for. You have to make a conscious effort to list 10 new things every day. I tried it for a week or two, and I understand the point of the exercise, but it didn’t really have an overall positive effect on me. In reality, the exercise reminded me of some things about society that I don’t care for, namely, the “it could always be worse” syndrome.
We are programmed at a very early age to feel guilty (perhaps guilty isn’t the best word, but I think you understand what I mean) for our wallowing because, you know, there is always someone who has it worse, Let me ask you a question: does that help you make the pain go away? When my mother passed away 7 years ago, I grieved for a solid year. I’m sure many people have lost a loved one. Maybe some of you lost both parents at the same time. Maybe there are different tragedies you are dealing with, and I empathize with you. However, it doesn’t make my burden any lighter. Sharing my ordeal does not bring me comfort. I will gladly accept your hugs, and your kind words, but commiserating over who has the bigger loss doesn’t bring things into perspective for me.
I am aware that the exercise is supposed to open your eyes to the fact that you have many things to be grateful for, and that they should override whatever negative element is influencing you at the moment. Maybe that works for a lot of people, but I know it doesn’t work for me. When I am struggling, I am well aware of what I have in my life. I am well aware that there are many people who have less than I. I pay attention to poverty. I pay attention to the basic struggle for human rights. However, one should not be made to feel that their struggle is less significant than anyone else, because at that moment it might feel very challenging to them. If I stub my toe, telling me that there are people who have broken their toe does not bring me comfort, it does not lessen the pain.
The better thing to do, in my opinion, is to listen to what the person is saying. Don’t use examples from your own experience unless you downplay them, meaning, show empathy but don’t hijack their misery. You may have lost a pet, but your pet wasn’t their beloved Mr. Scruffles, so even though the events are similar, they are not the same. Everybody believes that their suffering is unique. What is really wrong with that?