Being Grateful When Everything Sucks

Amy Clites

Featured Columnist: “Thoughts From The Third Coast”

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“When I was little, I thought I would be...

A big comedian on late night TV

But now I'm thirty-two and as you can see

I'm not

Oh well, it sucks to be me.

It sucks to be me.

It sucks to be broke and unemployed and turning thirty-three.

It sucks to be me.”

Are you feeling like Brian from Avenue Q right now?

Is your career in shambles?  Does it seem like you’ll never get a decent gig again?  Is it so bad that even a job that pays in “exposure” sounds like a step up? 

Are you struggling to make ends meet?  Does that towering stack of unpaid credit card bills scare you?  Do you feel like you’re in a LTR with the bill collector that keeps calling?  Do you regret getting that expensive education in the arts?

Are your dim career prospects affecting your relationships?  Is your partner ready to leave you?  Or do you worry you’ll be single for the rest of your life?  Maybe it’s too much of an effort to even swipe right?  Are you complaining so much that your mother has stopped responding to your texts?

Does our political climate have your emotions in tatters?  Are you worried about getting shot when you wear your pajamas to get a bagel at the bodega downstairs?  Does the news have you so wound up that the only thing you can stomach to watch on TV are late night reruns of Fraiser or infomercials for My Pillow?  Does that My Pillow look like #relationshipgoals to you at this point?

Is it tough to even form complete sentences right now?

I know it’s Thanksgiving and it’s that time of year when we’re supposed to be counting our blessings and whatnot.  But OMG, what if it’s a struggle to even get out of bed in the morning?

How can you be grateful when everything sucks??

You’re Not Alone

First of all, maybe you’ll take some solace in knowing that you are not alone.  It seems many Americans aren’t feeling as great this year as they were last year.  According to the World Happiness Report, a yearly ranking of the happiness levels of more than 150 countries, the U.S. has dropped four spots in 2018.  We’re now ranked 18th in world.  We’ve never even finished in the top 10.  Those show-offs in Scandinavia regularly take most of those spots.  Maybe there’s something to hygge after all. 

 But I digress.

According to the report, some of the problems contributing to our collective unhappiness include substance abuse, depression, obesity, and a drop in life expectancy.  They also say that lack of social support and an increasing sense that government, businesses, and public institutions are corrupt are adding to our unease.

 Gee, ya think?  I hardly know anyone who isn’t dealing with something on that list, myself included.

The good news is that if schadenfreude is your thing, then you should be feeling a little bit better now.  (Why does everything come back to Avenue Q?)

 If not, we’ve got to figure out a way to dig ourselves out of this hole.

The Science of Gratitude

OK, so everything sucks and many of us are unhappy.  We know we need to put a little gratitude in our attitude, but does that really work?  Does the act of appreciating something really contribute to our happiness or success?  Science seems to suggest that it does.

Gratitude can help you form new relationships.  A 2014 study by the University of New South Wales published in the journal Emotion showed that expressing gratitude actually strengthens new relationships.  Thanking a new acquaintance, no matter what they’ve done for you, makes it more likely that they’ll pursue an ongoing relationship with you.  Apparently, the act of stating your appreciation shows that you’re worth investing in.

Gratitude can help you sleep better.  Who couldn’t use a better night’s rest?  A good night’s sleep affects everything from your immune system to your emotional well-being.  Several studies have shown a correlation between writing down what you’re grateful for and sleeping longer and more soundly.

Gratitude improves physical and psychological healthResearch shows you can actually improve your heart health and lower your blood pressure by practicing gratitude.  It increases your resilience, improves your mood, and gives you more self-control.  Do you want to quit smoking or lose weight?  Then start counting your blessings.

Gratitude helps you feel better about yourself.  Who doesn’t want a boost to their self-esteem?  You know how important self-confidence is when it comes to booking a gig.  You have to believe in yourself.  If you don’t, nobody else will either.  Another 2014 study, this one published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, tracked athletes and found that gratitude increased their self-esteem, which in turn made them better players.

Where to Start

Before we get started on weaving gratitude into our lives, I think it’s important to recognize that it may make you feel like a chump.  Getting all thankful and appreciative when you’re feeling Scrooge-y could make you feel inauthentic at best.  I mean expressing gratitude when you’re feeling anything but grateful is just for the wackos who buy into The Law of Attraction, right?

Perhaps.  But what does it hurt to try?  Will it really bruise your ego so much to be seen as Mr.  Brightside?  A little vulnerability is a good thing – you know it makes you a better actor.  Let that feeling of vulnerability into your personal life as well and see what happens.

Without further ado, here are some tips to introduce the practice of gratitude into your career and your life.

Write thank-you notes.  Why is this a lost art?  Who doesn’t love to receive a heartfelt thank-you note?  Whether it’s via email or snail mail, thank-you notes show people that you care and that you’re worth investing in.  Don’t be stingy – everyone deserves a note! Send them to your agent, your manager, casting directors, your coach, that one high school teacher you really liked, your scene partner from class – anyone!

Reach out to those who inspire you.  Every artist has a laundry list of people whose work inspires them.  Even if you’ve never met them, drop them a line and tell them how much you enjoy their work and why.  It’s unlikely you’ll get a response, but that’s not the point.  Everyone enjoys words of appreciation.  Your recipient will get a boost and so will you.

Respond to all messages.  Even in this age of communication overload, it’s important you respond to all your voicemails, emails, texts, and the like.  Even if it’s just a short acknowledgement of receipt, it’s good practice.  It’s nice to know that people care enough about you to reach out.

VolunteerCharitable acts are one of the best ways to show your gratitude, and you get so much in return.  It’s a great reminder that you’re part of a larger community, and you may actually help someone in the process.  You’ll also be reminded of all those things you take for granted, and will likely earn a new appreciation for them. 

Make a commitment to not complain.  I know, complaining sometimes feels good in the moment and lets you blow off some steam.  But it’s easy to get into a complaint spiral where you begin to get the feeling that everything in your life is shitty.  Complaining draws negative energy to you, and that’s the last thing you want.  The next time you feel the impulse to complain, make an effort to find something to appreciate instead.  If someone cuts in front of you in line, maybe you’ll notice how great their cologne smells.  If snow is causing you problems on your commute, notice how much more inviting it makes the light look inside the shop across the street.  It takes mental discipline to look for reasons to appreciate things instead of complain about them, but it is a habit worth cultivating.

Write a good review.  Did you love that voice workshop you took last weekend?  Was the service at the café down the street top-notch yesterday?  Did the guy at the dry cleaner go out of his way to make sure he had your best outfit ready for that big audition?  Then get thee to an online forum and write a nice review.  People are so accustomed to hearing complaints that it can be a boost to everyone when you have something positive to say instead.

Bring your stage manager their favorite snack.  Are you in a show right now?  Even if you aren’t in a show, do you have a friend who is a stage manager?  Then bring that person their favorite snack, stat! Stage managers are the unsung heroes of the theater world, and they have to put up with our endless bullshit.  Bring them a plate of brownies, a sandwich, or a cup of coffee.  They’ll appreciate it, and I promise it will make you feel better, too.

Do something nice for yourself.  Finally, don’t leave yourself out of the mix.  One of the best things you can do is to turn your gratitude on yourself.  Be nice to yourself.  Treat yourself to something you enjoy, like a manicure or even a hot bath.  Smile at yourself in the mirror and pay yourself a compliment.  You deserve your love just as much as everyone else does.  It does not matter if you think you aren’t living up to your potential or you’re in debt or your boyfriend or girlfriend just broke up with you.  You are worthy, always and forever, no matter where you are in life, whom you are with, or what you are doing (or not doing). 

Hopefully, these tips will help you through the holidays, even if you’re feeling super crappy.  The important thing to remember is that gratitude, like any other skill, is something that is practiced and that you can and will get better at it over time.  Why not start now?

Amy Clites is a writer and actor who relocated to the Third Coast (the shores of Lake Michigan) after 20 years in NYC and LA.   Check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.