Thanks, But No Thanks.

Some things you should know before we get started:

As a young one, snacking with a childhood friend, I decided to speed eat all the Oreos. While I tried to swallow cookies ‘n cream barf and victory dance around the den, she calmly looked up at me asked me what was happening. I won eating, dummy. That. Is. What’s. Up.

Years later I would attempt to cheat at a high-school Career Test. I answered everything as ideally and dishonestly as possible to ensure that the computer would take one glance at that sparkling sheet and say “YES! Future Leader of the Free World, y’all!”. So I fibbed that I loved teamwork and nature and helpless children and (while skewing answers) answered that I have only the purest intentions and completely solid morals. The guidance counselor just kind of shook her head and told me, again, that cheating was pretty pointless on a test meant to offer you simple guidance? Wasn’t it weird that after all those tainted answers about teamwork and intelligence and hobbies the ScanTron felt 98% sure I should go into the birdhouse-making business?

So there is a brief glimpse into a history of competing in the completely uncompetitive.

Last week I found an interesting Gratitude Quiz from the great people at Berkeley’s  Greater Good Project. Ready to dominate Thanksgiving, I clicked through the test, taking extra care to cheat-tweak my answers. I would ace Gratitude and be most superior about it.

I am thankful for health and happiness and good people and my child and a house with a roof and safety and comfort and cupcakes. While I feel confident that I am a grateful person, old habits die hard. I had the immediate need for this on-line quiz to tell me how very Mother Teresa I am.

I cheated on a Gratitude Quiz.

And I still only got a low, low B.

Honest first reactions were to yell “Gratitude my ass!” and angry slam my laptop (Full disclosure: I also said “You don’t know me!” in a Jersey accent a la bar brawl). And a light bulb, a subtle realization that if my Type-A/ Sore Loser personality is ready to crotch kick a team of gratitude test writers I A) could probably actually stand to work on gratitude and B) might just be a serial killer, because picture a bunch of abundantly appreciative nerds typing out questions of thankfulness, taking breaks only to share hot cocoa and pet kittens, all the while offering sweet, gracious words of gratitude to their co-workers and computers and walls. What kind of thankless monster am I?

I mentally backspaced through a few lines of pretty astounding expletives, took a breath, and understood- maybe 4 to five times slower than the average person- that such tests are worth honestly taking. I’ll never know what I was supposed to be, and I’m betting  Birdhouse Architect ain’t anywhere close. I’ll never get gratitude right, if I don’t know just how wrong I’m doing it to begin with.

Upon further inspection of my flawed giving of the thanks, I came to the conclusion that I’m good at textbook thanks. Gratitude 101, the very basics. I appreciate the good things I have. I say thanks a lot. But, as is the case with most human peers, my gratitude is finicky, contingent on other things, hot and cold and colder and then randomly warm-ish again. According to Berkeley’s Dr. Emmons of the Greater Good Project, here are a few places where my thanks tanks.

Comparative Thanks: Many of us are most thankful when we witness someone else’s shortcomings. For example, I felt so unbelievably happy to have fully functioning limbs when I watched an interview with a group of bombing victims. I could not tell you any instance before or after that moment that I’ve looked at my elbow or knee or big, caveman feet and felt genuinely lucky to have them. I should be really thankful for these parts every time I take a step or move a muscle, but I needed to see someone with less than I have to make me happy to have more.

True gratitude is saying I’m so thankful for these arms and I hope you have arms, too. Wait. Whatever. You know what I mean.

Gratitude Gesture: I went to get my eyebrows waxed the other day at a nail salon. The lady who wielded the hot stick did not care about feelings. She damn near tore my whole face from the bone and looked perturbed to be bothering with me, anyway. While I handed over my cash she looked at me, spoke something to her friend in Mandarin, and they both laughed. So I tipped her and said thank you, thank you, thank you. What? I didn’t mean it. Not to encourage hollering at the nail lady, but in today’s world we so often feign gratitude because it’s customary and expected. Over time, “thank you” becomes as casual “Hey” or “Bye” and then becomes meaningless. I will still say thank you, thank you, thank you to the nail lady (because I’m scared of her, and she’s the only one who can wrestle these Peter Gallagher brows into submission). But I am going to work on saying thank you the same but meaning it more.

Next time I express gratitude I’d like it to be felt with a voice like Oprah saying “I thanked you ON PURPOSE!”.

Thanks & Thangs: For the low, low price of $39.95 plus shipping & handling you can have your very own Box O’ Blessings! False. Though I tried and only got a Duck Dynasty Chia Pet in the mail. We all know that gratitude and true thanks should not be awarded to dinky little objects, but most of us often forget. You can like your fancy car, your designer purse, or (in my case) your fuzzy frog pajama pants, but does something you swapped some monies for really deserve your deepest appreciation? I like to say that I am truly thankful for basic things: a roof over my head, clothes to keep warm, food to eat, but is that the absolute truth? I fail at being grateful for having enough because I am too busy trying to be grateful for all the more. In my heart I know I’d be less grateful if my “safe place to live” was a tent with a poop bucket in the woods. I know I’d be less grateful if the clothes that kept me warm were filthy rags. I’d be thankful-er eating ice cream rather than carrots, and thankful-est still if that ice cream came before cake.

True gratitude is not having cake and not eating it, too and saying thanks for any carrot and/or crumb that manages to come your way.

Gust of Gratitude: The most wide-spread gratitude funk, as far as I can tell, is failure to stay consistently grateful.  It’s easy to ride a wave of gratitude when things are going swimmingly, when all the lights are green, and all cards are dealt in your favor. Personally, I need it to be far away from a menstrual cycle on a sunny Saturday  at a cupcake shop to be really, truly thankful for my surroundings. I need a thanks-based holiday to trigger gratitude. I easily forget to feel fortunate when things suck. This is the hard work of giving thanks, though, isn’t it? Feeling fortunate when you are without fortune. Celebrating blessings when it seems you’re on an unlucky streak. Best thanks are given when you are dealt the worst card while stuck at a long row of red lights as the whole world wreaks of havoc and still managing to muster up the deep-bellied, sincerest of thank yous.

Right before Thanksgiving, I’m honestly (no cheating, I swear) working on getting my bare-bones, tried-and-true gracious on. Hopefully after Thanksgiving I’ll remember to beam grateful, too.


What type/area of gratitude do you struggle with?

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36 thoughts on “Thanks, But No Thanks.

  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

    No gratitude struggles today, thank goodness. :D

    All I can offer today in the way of true confessions relates to cheating on silly tests, so here goes: I cheated on a Bible test in 8th grade.

  2. I am not by nature a grateful person. Rather, I tend to focus on what’s wrong, and either push hard to fix it or curl up in a powerless ball against it. But I do know that there are little Easter eggs of goodness hidden in each day and if I look for them and feel grateful for them my life seems to work better. More about this on my blog on Wednesday and Friday.

    • Excited to read your thoughts on this, Jim! I am a “Find The Problem & Fix” type, too. I normally get so busy fixing that I don’t stop to try to find those eggs of goodness :)

  3. I once interviewed for an insurance salesman position right out of college. After the verbal portion, I was so horrified by the job that when it took time to take the aptitude/personality test, I bombed it on purpose. I said I HATED talking to people, was TERRIBLE at selling things, and my ideal job was to work as a HERMIT typing out screenplays in a cave in the mountains. No kidding. I never did get a call back with a job offer, imagine that.

    And THAT is what I’m thankful for!

  4. Hey, Rambler, I totally understand you answering those Career Test questions based on what you believed would give the most impressive career choice for you. Been there, and done that. I don’t recall what my first one said I should do. I answered the second one honestly and it said I should be an Entertainer. My mother said she didn’t need the results of any test to confirm that!
    As far as gratitude and thanks, I agree it’s best when sincere. I get mad at myself when I leave a generous tip for lousy food and lousier service. Must stop. And why can’t I tell my hairdresser that I HATE the way she styles my bangs? Luckily, the cut is good, so I can redo what I paid and tipped for when I get home.

    • Aren’t we humans silly? I am so accustomed to the “expected gratitude” gestures like tipping, saying thank you to everyone I pass, that I forget to actually mean it! I think the more I slow down and think before saying thank you, the more it will stick with me, spur on more meaningful gratitude. I don’t want to be a person who is surface grateful but not truly feeling it!

  5. This post brought to mind a quote I read the other day: “When you look at life through eyes of gratitude, the world becomes a magical and amazing place.” And isn’t it true how amazing life becomes when we are truly thankful for everything we have, which for most of us, is abundance? Thank you for your honest reflection.

    • That is a brilliant and simple theory, and I see it over and over again in all of the people I meet. Happy begets happy. Grumpy begets grumpy. A grateful person can find happiness in most any environment, and an ungrateful, unsatisfied person can find and MAKE misery wherever he goes. Trying to fix my mindset and be on the happy team :)

    • I mentioned the Mother Teresa thing to a friend and she told me to aim lower. So, maybe I’ll try to be Barbara Walters good? A quiz was the absolute worst forum for me because I have such a Straight-A-Student complex engrained in me. If I could just sit and talk about gratitude I’d probably have faired a little better. Something about a test just makes me crazy-eyed and focused on acing it!

    • I’m a look-ahead-er, too. I’m such a checklist mentality that in my head it sounds like “Safety: Check, House: Check, Health: Check, Kid: Check, onto the next one….”

  6. This is something I muse about all the time – the strong connection between having gratitude and being happy. And like you, working hard to remember this, yet failing. Damn. Particularly want to pass it on to my children, who are more obsessed with what they want than what they already have.

    • Kids have the More More More Syndrome big time. Thomas just finished telling me that he’s done playing with a new toy he received a couple weeks ago because it’s too “old”. Then he asked for TWO Spiderman scooters for Christmas. When asked why one kid would need two scooters he confidently responded “Because I want them” with that “Duh, mom” look in his eyes. I’ve started trying to have the “Be content with what you have” talks with him, but he’s 4. His eyes just kind of glaze over.

    • Haha, according to Tori’s Guide To Cheating, cheating on ANYTHING is possible!!! Mosquitoes is actually brilliant. If I could actually will myself to be thankful for mosquitoes I think I could be grateful for most anything :)

  7. I am thankful for you, my little love. That I was and am so, so fortunate to be allowed to have you and your siblings be my kids. I get to sit here and look at y’all and be so proud and grateful.

  8. Being grateful when things aren’t going well is the most difficult for me. I often have to remind myself to find something to be thankful for in those situations.

    PS — That Duck Dynasty Chia Pet looks pretty awesome. :)

  9. At the moment, I’m struggling with having gratitude for gratitude tests. If we are alike, then we sometimes take issue with the premise of a given question. If gratitude is defined as a measure of “Shwew, at least I’m better off than THAT guy!” intensity, I’m calling shenanigans. What are we doing to make THAT guy’s life a little easier? Fine, swerve to avoid an accident and remember to feel thankful for safety… but do we think “Wow, I hope THOSE people are okay”? Gratitude and humility go hand-in-hand. There’s no point feeling more fortunate than someone else if we’re not doing something to make that person more fortunate. Failing that, we don’t have gratitude… we have narcissism. *falls off soapbox onto face. busts nose.*

    • BAM! You win comment (which probably exactly goes against what your comment is saying). I think that is a HUGE revelation, that one can’t be so self-serving and truly, deeply grateful at the same time. That is EXACTLY what I’d like to work on. I definitely feel/think about people in less fortunate situations in terms of “What could I do to help”, but there is still that nagging, back of the brain relief that I’m not going through the less fortunate situations myself. I’d like to knock it off!

      • No, no – you’re totally allowed to be relieved. I didn’t mean to say you’re a failure at gratitude. I think the QUIZ is a failure because it’s not measuring gratitude, really.

      • I was wondering as I was taking it what the purpose of it really was. It seems like they relate how often you think about being thankful to how overall grateful you are? Definitely a hard and abstract idea to grasp in a little quiz :)

  10. I’m cracking up at the image of you speed-eating oreos. And my tummy hurts a little just thinking about it. Gratitude is something that I constantly have to work on, which is kind of ridiculous considering how first world it is to have to work on gratitude for having a house, cars, clothes, food, laptop, phone, um, everything. But it is very easy to look around and see who has “more,” and to feel dissatisfied. It’s a Jewish concept that we have what we need, and our neighbors have what they need, and we don’t need what our neighbors need. We have different purposes, and thus, need different things. Internalizing that is helpful for me to be grateful with what I have.

  11. Pingback: All Things, A Little Bit Good | the ramblings

  12. Pingback: Thanks, But No Thanks. | mymomisstrongerthancancer

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