So, you’ve found the perfect 2022 diary, your intention is to journal every day, and at the very least you’ll be writing down three things you’re truly grateful for. In theory it sounds like rainbows and butterflies – and there is much scientific evidence to show that practising gratitude can be very beneficial for our mental health. But the reality is that many of us experience things in our lives around which it’s hard to muster any good thoughts, let alone be grateful for them. That’s why, for 2022, it’s all about the ingratitude list.
“Ingratitude lists work on [Swiss psychiatrist] Carl Jung’s theory about making our unconscious, conscious,” says Jodie Cariss, therapist and founder of straightforward therapy service, Self Space. “It’s about bringing all of the pain, suffering or anger that you might ordinarily bury, into the light. From there it can be observed, validated and released.”
The idea is to write down things that aren’t going well, that are annoying you and that you’re emphatically not grateful for. Because feelings deemed “negative” are still those we all experience, and suppressing them or “dressing them up in niceties”, as Cariss puts it, doesn’t help us feel lighter or happier. “We’re always encouraged to be grateful, kind and selfless – all valuable traits – but that leaves little room for natural feelings of anger, distress, frustration and jealousy that we all experience. We need to process these difficult emotions,” explains Cariss.
Once your points are written down, her advice is to read your ingratitude list back to yourself and divide it into two parts: part A, the things you can control, and part B, the things you can’t. “Work with list A to help you focus on the things you can change, and review how you can make peace and learn to live with list B,” she says. “Writing it all down takes the energy out of these feelings.” Having tried it myself, I can confirm there is a lot to be said for acknowledging the feelings plaguing you, committing them to paper, and assessing – practically – what you can do about them.
Now, this isn’t to say you should forgo gratitude; there is still a big and important place for that. But combining the two practices can help you accept the problems in your life – and take the sting out of their tails – rather than fighting against them, which is an unnecessary waste of new year energy. Instead of forcing yourself to feel grateful, it’s about listening to your true feelings and writing them down in an authentic way, whether positive or negative.
“Writing things you’re ungrateful for won’t make them go away, but it will help give you direction. It will help you identify patterns, themes and things in your life that repeat. It will also help you focus on the things you can change so you can move from awareness into action,” says Cariss. “It’s really about radical self-acceptance: from big to small, deaths to disappointments, we all live with them. The less we pretend they are not there, the less power they have over us in our lives.”