As a general rule, I'm a big fan of gratitude. Not just making lists of things I'm grateful for, but sharing that gratitude with others, and letting people know when something they've done has made a positive difference for me.
There is tons of research on how gratitude enhances our happiness and well-being, but I also want to offer a caveat: It is important not to fake it. If you do, it will backfire.
Or at least that's been my experience.
There have been many times in my life when people have done wonderful, amazing things for me, and honestly, I didn't feel grateful. Instead, I felt resentful.
I was resentful to be in a situation where I needed help in the first place. Resentful that other people could do things that I couldn't. Resentful that what I had to offer in return felt so inadequate. Resentful that my problems didn't go away, even after receiving help. And resentful that I felt so resentful!
But at the time, I couldn't even acknowledge the resentment, because my mind was telling me I should feel grateful. It created a huge bind.
At times like those, I would argue that gratitude is not the most helpful thing to express. Instead, if you want to reach out, find people who are struggling and send cards to them.
You don't have to fake anything with people going through hard times. You don't even have to know them. Even if you've never met, you already understand something about their experience. Just put in writing some words that you might like to hear, and trust that they will be perfect.
Not sure where to find people in need of love? Take a few minutes to scroll your favorite social media feed. Despite the conventional wisdom that people only publicly share the shiny happy parts of their lives, I haven't found that to be true at all. People share about loss and illness and disappointment, too. And when they do, you can send them real cards.
Or if it would be easier to send a card to someone you don't know personally, check out the website for The World Needs More Love Letters. This organization collects stories of individuals around the world who could use some extra love, and invites strangers to write to them. On the list right now are a housebound centenarian, a sophomore in college, and people of all ages struggling with their mental health. You could also nominate someone to receive their own bundle of love letters.
You might not know what impact your words will have on the other person, but it almost doesn't matter. Reaching out to someone with love when you've been feeling like the needy one is a powerful and important statement, in and of itself. And it can be the thing that helps you turn the corner and head back toward the light.
Then, once you've started experiencing that light again and actually feel grateful, go ahead and send thank you cards to anyone and everyone you can think of! No matter how much time has passed, the people who love you will be overjoyed to celebrate with you.
Your comments and stories are welcome as always. I look forward to hearing your perspective.