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10 Things to Be Thankful for Even If You Hate Yourself

Thanksgiving is hard to celebrate if you think you don't deserve good things.

Key points

  • Studies show that gratitude has many physical and mental benefits, but low self-esteem sometimes makes it hard to feel grateful.
  • Feeling unable to celebrate Thanksgiving "properly" gives people with low self-esteem yet another reason to shame and blame themselves.
  • When low self-esteem blocks our ability to feel thankful, we can ultra-simplify the process of gratitude.

When a major holiday is based on gratitude—which, with its scientifically proven mind and body benefits, features prominently in self-help circles these days—those with low self-esteem face major pitfalls.

What if we think we don't deserve good things?

What if we believe ourselves so incompetent/inferior/evil that we attained our careers, friendships, and other accomplishments unfairly or by accident? What if we cannot "own" whatever we should ostensibly be thankful for?

Our vicious inner critics lash out at us as we think our friends/coworkers/kinfolk would if they knew how unthankful Thanksgiving can sometimes make us feel:

How dare you whine and moan when millions have it so much worse? If you're not starving, sick, in pain or prison, sprawled with your back broken at the bottom of a cliff where nobody can hear you scream, why aren't you dancing ecstatically in the street? If you can walk/talk/think, why aren't you broadcasting your gratitude across the sky?

Our vicious inner critics hiss: Shall I give you something to cry about?

We turn our seeming inability to celebrate Thanksgiving "properly" into further fuel for our self-hatred.

The trouble with low self-esteem is that it feels so real. It is a state of mind, of consciousness, a misperception as if we were locked in steel-walled echo chambers, wearing someone else's contact lenses, thinking this was life and sight.

The other trouble with low self-esteem is that stuff sticks to it. Like tar, low self-esteem attracts and collects every morsel of passing debris, which makes it ever larger, ever stickier. That lost key, those unanswered texts, all rank as further "evidence," more "proof."

Knowing all this, we can embrace Thanksgiving on alternate terms.

Not beating ourselves up over our perceived ingratitude—which is not selfishness or carelessness or spoiledness, really, but rather nearsightedness of the heart—we can celebrate what we treasure or have ever treasured, however intangible or slight. We can celebrate things that simply are. Such as:

  • Air: Sure, it's obvious. But that's the point. We need it, and it's almost always there.
  • Laughter: Something, somewhere, at some time we found hilarious. Wasn't that fun?
  • Wilderness: We need not climb Half Dome or swim with golden jellyfish on Palau, but how amazing that these opportunities exist.
  • Other species: Aren't we lucky not to inhabit this Earth alone?
  • Knowledge: Not only ours but everyone's, accumulated over time.
  • Non-pain: Whatever doesn't hurt, just yay.
  • Music: In the ever-expanding realm of "this is simply out there waiting to be enjoyed," this ranks incredibly high.
  • Free stuff: See air, music, and wilderness above. Consider everything that costs no money. Each such item is a gift, a prize.
  • Certain individuals: This includes ones we know, ones we never knew, in person or in principle, fleshly or fictional.
  • Healing: More in the "exists" category. It's not rapid or always complete, but it has happened and still will.
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