Jeffrey Platts

What To Do When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

Written by on January 20, 2014

I used to hate the word gratitude.

But then again, I hate most things that become cliché. But I also know that every cliché has truth.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Actions speak louder than words.
Balloons make you smile.

Just watch Oprah. Deepak. Or read any article on happiness and success tips and at the top is always “practice gratitude.” And I always cringe when I read it.

Maybe it was because it highlighted how little I actually took the time to write those gratitude lists. And more often because I forced myself to make those lists precisely when I was feeling the least grateful. Or happy.

Searching for gratitude in those moments felt like putting a happy face sticker on an empty gas gauge. How can I focus on (or notice) the things I’m grateful for if I’m not already feeling grateful? So I’d come up with standard list things.

  • “I’m grateful for my family.”
  • “I’m grateful for my health.”
  • “I’m grateful for warm bed.”
  • “I’m grateful for the food I have to eat.”

And oddly enough, I would feel worse afterwards. I would beat myself up for not feeling grateful after those really nice sentences.

“What kind of insensitive jerk can’t feel grateful for the obvious things that so many other people don’t have?”

So my gratitude practice caused me to feel like an jerk. Awesome.

But one day last year, instead of asking myself “What am I grateful for?”, I asked myself

“How is the Universe supporting me in my life right now?”

It felt easier. Lighter. Doable. True.

That question allowed me to shifted my focus to simply looking for evidence WITHOUT needing to already feel grateful when I ask it. In any moment, I can always find evidence on how The Universe/Life/God is supporting me in this very moment.

  • “My body is breathing itself without my doing anything.”
  • “I have at least 10 friends I could reach out to right now if shit hit the fan.”
  • “There is a bus that allows me to travel round trip between DC and New York for $40.”
  • “I don’t have to make my own clothes.”
  • “The Internet, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter allow me to write for free and share my ideas with millions of people.”
  • “I can drink the tap water where I live.”
  • “If I want to go from the United States to Brazil, I can be there in 9 hours. NINE FREAKING HOURS!”
  • “I can push a button on a little glowing box to see and talk with my parents who live 600 miles away.”
  • “Public transportation allows me to stand on street corner, hop on a bus and be in a totally different town for just $2.”
  • “There is free Internet at Starbucks.”
  • “I’m not being attacked by gorillas right now. Or any wild animal.”

And listing evidence of how life is supporting me often LEADS me to feeling grateful. I would even say the final intention of even practicing gratitude lists is that we feel supported and cared for by life.

But even if I don’t feel grateful, the cool thing is I’ve got now my mind focused on how life is continually conspiring to support me and the people around me. And that feels good no matter what. And that’s better than feeling like an ungrateful jerk.

So next time you feel like you should write a gratitude list and you are feeling lost, bitter, or stuck, ask yourself:

“How is the Universe supporting me in my life right now?”

And see what answers you can find.

Never do what you think you “should” do if it doesn’t actually make you feel better about yourself. Tweak it or find something different that DOES work for YOU.

And I’m grateful that you read this until the end.


Jeffrey Platts is a men's coach and authentic communication expert who is passionate about helping men create amazing relationships with women. With over 20 years of personal study and transformational training, he has led nearly 200 workshops and retreats on personal growth, dating, and communication. Jeffrey's work and writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, Washington Post, ABC News, Authentic Man Program and the Good Men Project. He brings a rich toolbox of insights and experiences to his facilitation, integrating his adventures as DJ, amateur stand-up comedian, salsa dancer, yoga teacher and world traveler.