Simple answer: If you’re having a bad day and don’t want to count your blessings, don’t!
(And if anyone asks, tell them you heard it from me, someone who founded an entire company on the premise of gratitude. Consider reading this piece your “get out of counting your blessings” card.)
But here’s the longer answer, and it starts with a story about having a bad day that I haven’t shared with anyone...until now:
I was recently on a work-related business trip to one of my favorite spots in California. After dealing with the horrible Boston winter snowpocalypse we'd just survived, this change of scenery was a true gift. I literally squealed in joy when I got off the plane, throwing off the numerous layers I was wearing and soaking up every ray of sun I could. Yes, I had a full load of work-related meetings, but I was convinced this was the perfect three-day vacation I'd secretly dreamed about and so desperately needed. Gratitude overload.
The next day turned into one of the worst I’ve had in a while. Suffice it to say that a bunch of things I'd had high hopes for didn’t work out, a friend really disappointed me, and the stress of those two things got so bad that I failed to get any sleep. Add to this the fact that I had to be really “on” during the day and was surrounded by dozens of people almost the entire time, including a few times when I had to present something to them. The equation looked something like this:
(Overwhelming stress + disappointment) x (lack of sleep + having to be on with tons of people around) = a really horrible day.
Here I was, in beautiful sunny California with amazing sunrises and the stunning Golden Gate bridge smiling at me every time I looked up, with people I liked, doing work I enjoyed… and I was losing it. At one point my pressure-cooker inside got so bad that I actually left a group meeting, went to my room, and had a good cry. (And what you should know is that my bar for crying is ridiculously high, in private or in public. It’s a Russian thing, I'm sure.)
This was a rough day. But there was one thing that made it even worse: an overwhelming sense of guilt I felt for having a really horrible day in such a beautiful setting, in such beautiful weather, in such a heavenly spot. What was wrong with me that I didn’t feel happy and grateful to be there? How could I be crying and stressing when I was so lucky to have a job that would take me to such a breathtaking place? As the founder of a happiness company that's based on the premise that you can find something to appreciate every single day of your life -- even on the worst ones -- I felt like a really big FAIL.
Which -- post tears, a really good night sleep, some texting with my 10 year-old kiddo and a lot of yummy California food -- got me thinking: Are there times when it’s okay to ignore this whole idea of gratitude and is it possible to get through a bad day without it?
Having just lived through this exact question, my answer is a really loud “yes!” In fact, going through my horrible day experience turned into an unexpected reminder about happiness and the importance, above almost all else, of being authentic -- true to yourself and true to others. It’s really easy to get caught up in seeking and wanting to feel happy all the time: I spent 15 years chasing this non-existent euphoric state of nirvana and failed miserably. Happiness is probably one of the most universal of human desires, but what most of us fail to understand is that happiness almost never exists in an absolutely pure form: it almost always has a slew of other emotions mixed in with it.
Life is filled with ups and downs, with sadness and laughter, with excitement and boredom and stress and chilling out. If we learn to adjust our expectations of happiness away from thinking of it as a constant perfect state of pure contentment and toward an understanding that it's created from an imperfect combination of emotions and a collection of moments that we notice, appreciate, and cherish -- even the less positive ones -- happiness will become a more realistic, authentic, and achievable goal.
One more bit of boldface: If you let yourself have some really horrible-no-good-very-bad days without pressuring yourself to make them good or feeling guilty for not finding moments of gratitude, you’ll actually be practicing mindfulness in the most authentic way I know how. You’ll be honest about your emotions and you’ll be giving yourself judgment-free permission to feel your emotions, no matter what they are and where they take you. Don’t get me wrong: I'm not advocating that you slip into a bottomless pit of sadness or stress. But allowing yourself be present in whatever your reality is can be as important as living with an intention of gratitude to appreciate the tiny -- and sometimes huge! -- awesome moments that are part of your real and beautiful life.