Gratitude is a funny thing. Whenever we feel lost, we need it most. And yet, it’s harder to find. Grace doesn’t show up at our door like you ordered a subscription online. It doesn’t show up when our world is the color of a blank February sky. We have to look for a reason to be grateful. We must, when we least want to move, seek out hope. And sometimes it takes the weirdest, deepest chasm of lostness to find it again.
I don’t want this introduction to mislead you. This post is about getting what you want. But I wanted to preface my reasoning with a few key notes.
Lately, I’ve been feeling (hmm) awful. I like emotions to be sirens—chaotic moments of shock and realization, lots of tears and overflowing happiness. Whatever the emotion may be, serve it to me like it’s going to set something on fire. Paint the town red. Fireworks above my head. Because the emotions that really scare me are the ones the color of concrete. They’re flat and taste like nothing. They don’t make me really angry or really sad or really happy or really anything. I don’t care to get dressed for them or be opinionated about them. They’re merrily there. And that’s why I’ve been feeling awful. I’m scared of the lackness. I’m scared of my inability to move forward.
I’ve been floating around in the violent current of a pandemic, hoping to drift and find a break for air. It’s February, the toughest month, the longest January. And my wanting has reached another level.
It’s during these times of inactive emotion I know I need to do something. And honestly, a gratitude journal doesn’t always do it for me. I’ve been floating around in the violent current of a pandemic, hoping to drift and find a break for air. It’s February, the toughest month, the longest January. And my wanting has reached another level.
“Getting what I want” is more simple than I thought. A pandemic has placed my longing on a large pedestal. I desperately want a face-to-face connection. I want my energy back. I want my emotions to be flooded with empathy and fireworks. I want to feel intentionally pretty again. I want to enjoy putting on makeup. I want my back to stop hurting. I want to enjoy my work, my job. I want all of these things back. And yet, nothing is working. Not my Passion Planner. Not my gratitude journal. Not my to-do lists. Nothing. Nothing is getting me anywhere.
Forgetting to be grateful is pretty kosher. And it’s normal for a gratitude list or long-winded planning to blatantly not work. In fact, gratitude lists sometimes don’t work at all for me. They make me feel guilty. They remind me of how many people don’t have those things. And they remind me that, when I’m feeling ungrateful, I must be just an asshole.
So, it’s time to reevaluate.
Emily and Amelia Nagoski wrote about gratitude practice in their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. (Writer’s Note: I’m never going to stop quoting this book.) They write, “Being grateful for good things doesn’t erase the difficult things. Women have spent centuries being grateful for how much better we have it now than we did before. This ‘gratitude for what you have’ has been used as a weapon against us, to silence our struggle and shame us for our suffering.”
So, it makes sense that while reading Lit by Mary Karr, I came across a quote that made me stumble to grab a pen: “Whatever you want emotionally, you have to start giving away.”
An epiphany. A small firework. A dash of red. A flicker of heat. Perhaps, a solution. And a simple trick to getting what I want. Giving it right the hell back.
It’s what I’m working on, in my sea of concrete colored feelings and energy. It’s gratitude turned on its head; put to action for other people. Getting what we want is about giving other people what we need so someone else feels the gratitude.
There are multiple ways you could apply this simple concept to your life, depending on what you need emotionally and physically. And that’s what I want to write about here. It’s what I’m working on, in my sea of concrete colored feelings and energy. It’s gratitude turned on its head; put to action for other people. Getting what we want is about giving other people what we need so someone else feels the gratitude. We are so individualistically involved, sometimes we think that we have to help ourselves before/instead of helping others to feel better. And I don’t think it’s self-serving to think that way.
So, here is my list of ways we can go outside of our individuality and get what we want. And let me note: by doing absolutely nothing self-serving.
Write someone a letter expressing how much they’ve helped you. Perhaps it’s an old professor who changed the way you read literature. Perhaps it’s the barista who smiles at you every morning. Write a long letter to grandma about how much she, and her fried bread recipe, have changed your life. Write a letter to your first friend in college, expressing why you’re so happy they dealt with your nervous energy freshman year. We build our relationships through storytelling; writing through our vulnerabilities. When we write the truth for others, sharing why we appreciate them, we become better versions of ourselves.
Now, I think it’s important to add a note here. When you open up to other people, the intention is not to use their love to love yourself better. We never need other people’s love to love ourselves or to be “complete.” In this case, we need other people to teach us how to love ourselves best—by giving them a piece of our own appreciation. By being selfless communicators.
Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Drive to every stoplight you see people asking for help and actually help. Give money and food. Shovel the entire sidewalk on your side of the street. Sign up for email lists that automatically give advice about how to be involved. I recommend signing up for Anti-Racism Daily to stay updated on what’s going on in the news and do something about shifting your communities for the better. It’s one of my favorite daily emails.
Donate some money to different places in your community once a month. Perhaps it’s a community that needs help rebuilding or a small business that needs the support. Set up a recurring payment to a favorite charity. A few to get you started: the Blackhouse Foundation, HandsOn Twin Cities, Women Giving Back, West Broadway Business Coalition, or The Link.
Clean your mother’s kitchen for her. Wash your dad’s car. Go grocery shopping for your single mother sister, who has become nothing but a set of monkey bars and emotional serum for her children. Iron your husband’s dress shirts. Offer to shovel the sidewalks and driveway for your grandparents or pick up their groceries.
Make pipe-cleaner hearts and mail them to every single one of your girlfriends. Print themed calendars filled with memories. Perhaps it’s a “College Calendar” that tracks all your most embarrassing moments. Or, a calendar with all of your favorite text messages you’ve received from them. I can’t stress this enough: Let it be weird. Paint someone a picture. Write them a poem.
Send everyone you know a vintage postcard that reminds you of them. Write a love letter inside. Tell them you love them more than it seems appropriate. Make it a point to tell someone you appreciate them every day, just once. Get out the damn three words: “I love you.” Text messages count. Facebook messages count. Instagram messages count.
Lately, I’ve been focusing really hard on my purpose in life. And a very important thing to me is engaging in meaningful conversations around love. I know it sounds cheesy. But speaking out gives me a sense of meaning, and when I tell people I love them, I know I’m serving my greater self. I’m working on it. I am a million miles from perfect. It’s tough to remember to be this “person of purpose” because we’re all these fight or flight, hairy, wild, selfish mammals that are constantly learning the basics of survival.
At the end of the day, we get what we give. And “getting what we want” is as simple as extending what we need to others.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - February 9, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.