The George Bailey Technique: Mentally Erase Your Blessings for Greater Joy and Optimism

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 3, 2012 · 51 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Lately, I’ve been looking at ways to be less cynical. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of healthy cynicism, I just have a tendency to go overboard with it so that it devolves into bitterness, pessimism, and passivity. I’m sort of morose by nature, so I’m constantly battling my inner Oscar the Grouch/Eeyore.

One thing I’ve read that’s supposed to help you overcome cynicism is starting a gratitude journal. You’ve probably heard of these things; some of you may have tried it yourself. There’s not much to it. Every day you write down the things you’re grateful for. By counting your blessings like this each day, you’re supposed to feel happier and more optimistic about life.

So they say.

I’ve done gratitude journals a few times throughout my life and I’ve never really gotten much out of the exercise. Which is really frustrating because I don’t understand why. I can flip through pages and pages of stuff that I’m thankful for and I think, “Man, I’ve got so much going for me. The world is great! Why don’t I feel any happier or less cynical about life?” On top of that, I know several folks who report that writing in a gratitude journal really helped them, so that made my failure at becoming happier through counting my blessings sting even more. I started to think that my extreme cynicism cankered my soul so much that I would never be able to feel happy or idealistic again. This of course resulted in my feeling more cynical, pessimistic, and bitter…


The Extraordinary Becomes Commonplace

A few months ago I was reading a book called Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Dr. Timothy D. Wilson. (It’s a really good book — I highly recommend it.) One little vignette in particular really stood out to me because it addressed my old nemesis: the gratitude journal.

Psychologists have actually researched the effectiveness of gratitude journals and the results are mixed. For some people, they live up to the hype. Writing down what they’re thankful for does indeed make them happier. But psychologists also found that for many people (like myself), gratitude journals have no effect on their happiness.

Researchers blame the ineffectiveness of gratitude journals on the “pleasure paradox.” Studies show we actually experience more and prolonged joy from an event when there’s a bit of uncertainty and mystery associated with it. It’s why randomly finding a measly $5 in a street gutter can make your week, but getting a long expected $1,000 raise might just cause a shoulder shrug. Because we’ve had a couple of months to think about and understand getting the raise, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea and so we don’t get much of a rise out of it. “The extraordinary becomes commonplace,” as author Ian McEwan put it in his novel Enduring Love. And therein lies the paradox, according to Dr. Wilson: “People want to understand the good things in life so that they can experience them again, but by so doing they reduce the pleasure they get from these events.”

According to Dr. Wilson, this pleasure paradox sabotages the effectiveness of gratitude journals for some folks because “people typically spend a lot of time thinking about the good things that have happened to them, and thus by the time they sit down to write about these events they have already achieved an understanding of them and robbed them of some of their mystery.”

So my inability to feel happier from my gratitude journal(s) isn’t because I’m a heartless Scrooge. I have become so adapted to having the things I’m grateful for that they no longer hold any uncertainty in my psyche, and according to research, uncertainty is the very thing that makes events and blessings in our lives more joyful and pleasurable.

Okay. Now I understand why gratitude journals don’t work, but is there anything I can do to feel more grateful for the things in my life, and as a consequence, a bit less cynical?

Thankfully, yes. There’s a simple trick to get around the pleasure paradox so you can feel happier and less discouraged about life, and more grateful for the people and things you have. Psychologists call it “The George Bailey Technique.”

A World Without George Bailey

“You’ve been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you.” – Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class

Yeah, that George Bailey from the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, if you recall, is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who constantly has his dreams thwarted because he’s always looking out for his friends and family. Ever since George was knee high to a grasshopper, he wanted to travel to exotic locales and build big things like skyscrapers and airstrips. Just when it seems he’s about to get started on making his dreams come true, some crisis happens that causes him to put them on the back burner so he can take care of other people.

Things come to a head one Christmas Eve when George’s absent-minded uncle misplaces $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds. Losing the money would mean bankruptcy for the Bailey Building and Loan and criminal charges for George. At the end of his rope, George decides to commit suicide so his family can cash his $15,000 life insurance policy and pay off the $8,000 debt.

Just before George leaps from a bridge to his icy, watery death, his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, jumps into the river and pretends he’s drowning. George, being the big-hearted guy that he is, saves Clarence. While they’re drying off, Clarence tries to talk George out of killing himself. When George bitterly wishes that he’d never been born, Clarence sees a way to convince him not to commit suicide. Through angelic powers, Clarence is able to show him what his family and Bedford Falls would have been like if George Bailey had never existed.

It’s a hell hole.

George’s younger brother dies because George wasn’t there to save him, quaint Bedford Falls turns into sleazy Pottersville, his mother is a bitter widow, and people are living in slum apartments instead of the nice homes George’s Building and Loan funded. Worst of all, George’s wife is an old maid and none of their beautiful kids exist.

As you can guess, George sees the light and begs to live again. His wish granted, he runs joyously through the streets yelling “Merry Christmas!” to everybody. He arrives home to find the authorities with a warrant in hand for his arrest, but George doesn’t care. He’s just happy to hold and kiss his kids. His wife comes in shortly after, followed by what seems like the entire town. The townsfolk all donate enough money to save George and the Building and Loan, George’s old childhood friend Sam Wainwright (hee haw!) lends George $25,000, and George’s war hero brother arrives to declare George “the richest man in Bedford Falls.”

Among the giant pile of cash, George finds a copy of Tom Sawyer that Clarence carried around with this inscription: ”Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence.”

It’s at this moment that George realizes what a wonderful life he really has. By seeing what the world would be like without him, he comes to a greater understanding and appreciation for the true richness of his blessings.

The George Bailey Technique in the Real World

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey experiences what the ancient Greeks called anagnorisis: the sudden realization of truth — of where things really stand and one’s true relationship to others. A few curious psychologists wondered if real people could experience the same kind of anagnorisis that George Bailey did when he saw a world in which he didn’t exist. So they did some experiments.

In one experiment, researchers formed two randomly selected groups of people. They asked one group to write a narrative on how they met their significant other; they asked the other group to “George Bailey” their significant other out of their lives by writing a narrative on ways in which they might not have ended up with them.

The result?

The folks who were given the George Bailey condition — writing about the ways they might not have ended up with their romantic partner — reported more happiness with their relationship than the folks who simply wrote about how they met their partner.

According to Dr. Wilson, the pleasure paradox explains the different results. The people who wrote about how they met their significant other ”had undoubtedly told that story countless times, and telling it again had little impact.” But for the folks who had to imagine their wives and husbands out of their lives, the exercise “made [their relationship] seem surprising and special again, and maybe a little mysterious — the very conditions that prolong the pleasure we get from the good things in life.”

Heartened by this study, I gave the George Bailey technique a try by thinking about the ways in which I might have never met Kate and what life would be like if I didn’t have her in my life. You can really get lost down the rabbit hole imagining the various possibilities, but envisioning my life without Kate makes me all the more grateful for her. I tried the George Bailey technique on other stuff in my life and I’ll be darned if it didn’t make me feel great about living and a whole lot less cynical.

The George Bailey Technique in Your Life

If you’re like me and want to reduce some of the cynicism and pessimism in your life, I challenge you to give the George Bailey Technique a try. What do you have to lose except for maybe 20 minutes? Pick one person, place, or event in your life that brings you happiness and satisfaction, and write down in your journal the various ways it might not have happened. Then imagine your life without that person/place/event and write that down, too.

As you do this exercise regularly, you’ll begin to feel more grateful for the blessings in your life and more hopeful and optimistic about life in general. At least it has for me.

Here’s to a merrier and less cynical Christmas, gentlemen.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 caleath December 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm

We must be blood brothers….I could have written the first part of this article and it would have been the same. I will give it a shot.

2 Andrew December 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

This is a technique espoused by Stoic philosophers, too. If you’re interested in it, check out A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

The Stoics referred to it as negative visualization, and it’s the same idea: by imagining that you don’t have the things you already have, you appreciate them more — everything from objects to relationships to your job.

3 Joe December 3, 2012 at 10:18 pm

It’s one thing for a man to assess what he has and where he is. It’s a whole other story to examine how he got there. Many of the things that have brought me the greatest joy and satisfaction happened only because some previous disappointment or failure forced me to change course.

We are the people we are as a result of a myriad of choices and circumstances. It’s amazing to imagine how different our lives would be if we had made just one decision differently. Even more amazing– think of the choices made by your parents, grandparents, and generations before, that resulted in you existing at all.

4 David December 3, 2012 at 10:37 pm

To piggyback off Andrew’s comment, I just finished reading “A Guide to the Good Life,” and I would definitely recommend it. I’ve been putting the negative visualization technique into use daily, and it has helped me change my attitude tremendously.

5 Alec Moore December 4, 2012 at 12:16 am

The old movie theatre in my town shows that movie every christmas eve. its awesome.

6 Chris December 4, 2012 at 4:25 am

This comes at a time in my life where I am feeling the same things and wondering where the ‘wonder’ went.So many things to be cynical about its hard to get out of that funk. I will give this a try.

7 Earnest December 4, 2012 at 4:57 am

Something interesting I’ve found with the gratitude business…

If I write down things I’m “grateful for” as a way of attempting to manufacture some sense of appreciation it doesn’t work. I end up with a list,. but feel blah.

If I just say “thank you” for what’s in front of me, with no expectation of getting anything in return, its a different situation. Thankyou for this laptop to type on, the AOM site and newsletters, the sound of crickets outside at night. The everyday ordinary stuff.

Perhaps something interesting to experiment with for a week. Same action – writing down what you’re thankful for – but different motivation.

>> I’ve done gratitude journals a few times throughout my life and I’ve never really gotten much out of the exercise. Which is really frustrating because I don’t understand why. I can flip through pages and pages of stuff that I’m thankful for and I think, “Man, I’ve got so much going for me. The world is great! Why don’t I feel any happier or less cynical about life?”<<

That's not being grateful – that's trying to trick yourself into feeling better. I've tried it a million times and it just has never worked for me.

8 Jim Collins December 4, 2012 at 5:32 am

Esteemed Brett, Kate, and Readers,

Perhaps our familiarity with our blessings can work for us. When I try to picture a world without any of the little twists of chance that have made my life, the most troubling thought is that I CAN’T imagine. I can invent plausible stories; each of them is as unlikely as what has happened. Contemplation of this fact can in turn make the familiarity of our lives a blessing in itself.

This applies to what I do for the future. I don’t know what will come of it. So for Brett and Kate, please consider that while most of the bread you’ve cast on the water via AoM and you’re persistent advocacy of our improvement may not return to you, there are many unknown shores on which that bread is likely to be found.

Sincerely from another shore,

A Gleeful Yuletide

9 Nick December 4, 2012 at 6:37 am

A great article. For me it was both of these things that helped. At first I started to count my blessings and it helped me pick myself up so to speak, but later on I actually did look back and saw that even the bad things that happened had a purpose and that they helped me become a better man. In essence this made me grateful for everything and resulted in me facing my problems (from HD failure to grandpa’s death to household repairs) with clarity and calmness. Both the good and the bad become one and you find yourself content with the situation, knowing that you only have to do the right thing and that it’s the only thing worth doing. This results in peace, creativity and happiness.

10 Caleb December 4, 2012 at 6:45 am

Great article. Im going to give it a shot!

11 Luke|and|etc. December 4, 2012 at 7:06 am

Nice. Always thought I was just a downer or an idiot for not “getting it”—I’ve always felt weird and insincere about “happy lists.” Appreciate the candor, Brett.

Have a family member working for the governement, doing things cool and secretive and important—they have this mentality also of imagining what’s *not* happening—terrorism or war, etc. I guess that’s a similar idea to imagining the absence of blessings.

12 Rob December 4, 2012 at 8:24 am

Excellent article and a nice reference to one of my favourite films. I wonder though – “George Baileying” someone or something out of your life gives you the chance to imagine something better doesn’t it? e.g. you might not have met your partner but you might have met someone you liked even more, or you might love your job but different circumstances might’ve led to your getting an even better one. I think for me, this technique would have negative results – what does anyone think of this?

13 Thomas Brooks December 4, 2012 at 8:26 am

I remember watching an episode of Wife Swap (which is a show that gives you a kind of George Bailey experience, what your life would be like with a different wife). It backfired. The man confessed, “I wish she was my wife.”

I have laid in bed at night and wondered how life might have gone differently if such and such would have happened. It’s as dangerous as it is therapeutic. You might come to resent the way things have played out more than you are grateful for them.

14 Robyn December 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

Wow, someone else who finds gratitude lists and books utterly useless to bring about any happiness. And I thought it ungrateful to think otherwise! That hymn “Count your many blessings” is one that never did anything for me either.

15 Alexander December 4, 2012 at 9:11 am

Brett, Kate –
I’m there too. Already, just thinking this way while reading the article, I can see how this method is an improvement over a traditional “I’m grateful for….” list. I really do think there is mystery in who we meet; who we’ve got; who we love. The George Bailey story just serves to remind us of that mysterious quality to life, I think.

But at the same time, how could anyone attracted to all of the same interests/emotions such as the AoM readership is be completely happy living in this world….I’m not surprised to see other comments reflecting the same sense of cynicism and morosity.

16 Eric Petersen December 4, 2012 at 9:27 am

Such a great article. I have been one who has always demonstrated an outward appearance of excitement and in most cases that is true. But a lot of times I have an internal cynicism that I tend to keep to myself.

I want my own personality to reflect how I act on the outside. I feel like the “George Bailey” technique will help. I’ll let you know how it goes when I sit down tonight and work through one thing and hopefully I will continue as well.

17 Jesse M December 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

Seems there are more of us cynics out there than I thought. Great post, B&K. I’m definitely going to try this technique. Thanks!

18 Eric Upton December 4, 2012 at 10:11 am

I’m with Nick.

I got a lot out of gratitude journals in the beginning. They energized me and made me pause and actually focus on my life and how good it really is.

But then the daily recollection became second-hand. It’s almost like the excitement and love was gone and I was struggling to think of new things, so I would rehash the old list.

Maybe a fine balance of both approaches are in order here.

Excellent write my friends.

19 David Y December 4, 2012 at 11:17 am

Thanks Brett & Kate for another excellent post.

Like George Bailey(and probably most everyone else) there are a lot of things that I did not get to do, or did not work out like I had hoped. But, all in all life did not turn out too bad. So I’m just thankful and satisfied with what I have.

Never tried the “gratefull list”. But, it does seem like it would be trying to fool yourself that you should be happier than you are.

20 Jack B. December 4, 2012 at 11:41 am

I have used the George Bailey technique many times before. Ironic that you wrote about it, because I just recently made a post about it and I have always used the reference “Juju’s Petals”. Many times when I get cynical and feeling sorry for myself I just say to myself…”Juju’s Petals” and it snaps me back to appreciating what I have and how blessed I am.
Actually, by simply telling you about my trigger words, I have brought myself up yet again.
Great article as always. I so enjoy this site.

21 Ben December 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm

It appears that the psychologists have merely stumbled over an old and (sometimes obvious) truth: you can only be grateful for what you don’t deserve. The heart of the problem with an individual not being grateful for a raise is because, in his becoming accustomed to the idea, he has fallen into the trap of thinking he deserves the raise. When you find $5 on the sidewalk, it’s immediately obvious that you don’t deserve it — and that makes you “happy”.

The reason the George Bailey technique works is because it forces you to realize you don’t deserve what you have. Yet, Scripture has told us thousands of years before psychologists this simple and important truth: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Christianity teaches us that every inclination of our heart is evil (Genesis 6:5), so it it not our nature to recognize the God who gives us life, breath, and everything; and the gift God later gave us through the death of Jesus on the cross, to save us from the consequences of sin (i.e., death; Romans 6:23). We have everything to be grateful for, and nothing we deserve.

If God is not our creator, and we are all the product of chance, then there is nothing to be thankful for, nothing we don’t deserve (good or bad), nothing to make us happy — and no reason to be happy (as happiness itself is empty).

Yet we know that isn’t true. The psychologists know that isn’t true. They haven’t discovered something new, they’ve discovered something old — and that’s the nature of gratitude demonstrated by the Bible.

22 Barry December 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm

This article struck a cord and crystallized some feelings I have had for a long time but could not articulate. So much so that it inspired the following email to my wife. At your indulgence, and hopefully with a kindred heart for the love you have for your spouse or children, here is part of that email.

Sweetie,………This is going to sound really weird, but as we have grown older I have developed this fear of you dying. I think about how utterly sad, miserable and lost I would be without you. There have been many nights when I panic because I can’t tell if you’re breathing. I wait and watch for your next breath. I’ll touch you to see that you are still warm or hug you to reassure myself that you are still there. It is one of my biggest fears. So although I have become a little neurotic, I have also started to love you at a much deeper level than ever before because of this fear.

The same thing applies to the kids. We are losing them day by day. The days of innocence have past for us, and I morn for the time when they were little. The teenage years have been hard, but they are still ours for now. They still like to hang out on our bed and talk. They still have those warm moments like this past weekend when the girls were holding hands as we walked around Galveston. You see it. Not too far in the future they will belong to someone else and will make lives for themselves. In many ways we can’t wait for that day, but there will also come a day when the house is empty and quiet and we will morn for this time in our lives. Thinking about that day when the kids are gone makes it easier to see past the arguments and their shortcomings and love them for who they are today just like the thought of losing you makes me love you so much more today than ever before…………..

Thank you to the folks at The Art of Manliness.

P.S. My wife and I have a tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas eve while wrapping presents and drinking eggnog after the kids have gone to bed.

23 Ash December 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I cant believe I just read this article. I cannot say how timely this happens to be for me. I have over the years, albeit some really tough ones, become increasingly cynical and pessimistic about everything around me. I first just attributed it to the fact that I like to overthink things, but it seemed like I could overthink anything, no matter how good it was to the point that it would become some sort of a negative in my life. I really have been consious of this lately and this hopefully is the timely help that I need. I will let you know if it works.

24 Waykno December 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I agree with Caleath (1st comment). I think so many of us are similar in this way that it must be a part of life for those of us “bent” that way. Just another plane of life we endure. I don’t think it is that unusual, just different than some others. Just as theirs is not unusual, just different. I now accept it. And am happy with it.

25 Christopher December 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I agree with Earnest that there is a difference between true gratefulness and trying to feel better. Cynicism, or being critical, is a good thing in moderation as you stated. However, I’d like to think that more emotionally driven criticism or cynicism is fueled by a lack of appreciation. So when a person imagines life without certain things, it begins an introspective understanding of what they have and they remember the mystery or excitement of those things. I also agree with Ben on his statement that “The reason the George Bailey technique works is because it forces you to realize you don’t deserve what you have.” When a person experience deprivation, they truly realize how fortunate they are. Hmm, this makes me wonder what I shall give up for New Years?

26 Gerald December 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm

“you can only be grateful for what you don’t deserve. ”

I disagree, I think its far more simple.

” Which is really frustrating because I don’t understand why.”

Maybe i am wrong, but to be “grateful” for anything you maybe just have to feel/experience the real abscence of it in youre live.

You never know what you missed in your live until you actually get it.

Other people dont know what they have/had in their live until they lost it.

In earlier days hunger for example was way more common to people. But the benediction before a meal means – even if some still keep that habbit – mostly nothing to us nowadays who never faced the opposite…We just take it for granted. Its not.
So we gain nothing from it. Like writing “gratitude journals”.

Nothings granted in our world. Not even our basic human needs like shelter… food, or health…

27 Leo December 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I’ve tried something similar to what you suggest in the article and I suppose if I wasn’t a depressive, it might work. I’ll stick with reminding myself what I’m grateful for. There are times when something gets though. This just reinforces a less than thrilling mindset I don’t want to go further with. If it works for you, it’ll definitely work for others.

28 Carl Monster December 5, 2012 at 7:48 am

“I’m sort of morose by nature, so I’m constantly battling my inner Oscar the Grouch/Eeyore.”
Interesting admission from the author.
I make assumptions from what I see here and on the boards of quite the opposite; him halving an almost-mechanical optimism.
Great exercise here, started doing it immediately. Perfect for this time of year.
Always hated the protagonist in that movie; always yelling. But it is worth enduring him for the ending because, well, it always smites the heart.

29 Ara Bedrossian December 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

I’m glad this worked for you. I am a recovering cynic myself, and have found two things that have helped me down the road to recovery. One: No one wants to be around a cynic. And those that do aren’t probably the ones you want in your life. Two, and more importantly maybe, I tell myself I’m going to die, every day. And I am. We all are. And then I think, what am I wasting my time being unhappy about? I’m the one who is making myself unhappy, so cut it out. And I start living in the present, and that is the start to living, because we cannot live in any other tense.
Cheers, and be well.

30 Paul December 5, 2012 at 9:19 am

I’ve gone through this exercise, though not formally, many times. To some extent, through deployment, I’ve also experienced it first hand.

I think by imagining (or sometimes actually) not having something or someone, not being able to do something, or nor receiving something does make one appreciate those people, opportunities, and things. It also allows one to realize and recognize those that they do not really need.

I can imagine multiple paths my life would have taken, had I not met certain people, been offered and taken certain jobs, or been given gifts or opportunities. Some better, some worse. Introspectively, I can appreciate where all the paths taken have brought me to the place I am and made me the person I am.

31 Garrett December 5, 2012 at 11:29 am

Any ideas on how to make this RFID blocking while still looking classy?

32 Martin December 5, 2012 at 11:38 am

Echoing what was said before in that I could have written the intro to this word for word in reference to myself. And, coincidentally, I started doing the gratitude journal just two weeks ago. also with no real effect.

While I can see the logic in this, I’m also in agreement with Rob above who thinks this rabbit hole might be a bad place to go. Along with my cynicism, I also have a dose of low self-esteem, and the two are possibly related, I don’t know. Still and I all, I sometimes feel like for all my success, I’m not “punching my own weight” in that I don’t actually deserve the things I have; that the bulk of it is just dumb luck. Imagining being without them runs the risk of actually validating that thinking.

I suppose that might be more a statement on my own psychology than the effectiveness of this method for the ‘average guy’. I do see it as an issue though. I have found myself thinking how much better off the world would be in some respects without my involvement. This exercise is fuel for that fire, I fear.

33 Jonathan December 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Everyone’s different. I had a hard time with gratitude journals and exercises too, but I did finally find one that worked for me. It is an exercise that just asks you to write down three (gratitude) things each morning, for twenty-one days. I think it worked for me because the exercise also revealed its “trick.” It was just a method to re-wire your brain to look for good things. I still get the steady stream of negative and cynical thoughts like many others do, but am becoming better at redirecting them.

The George Bailey method is intriguing; I will have to give it a try with the other Gentlemen here. Thanks for presenting a different facet!

34 jeff December 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm

An alternative to the journal is an album of photos or a sketch book that reflect something you are thankfull for. I keep both a camera and sketch book in my pack and use these thankful images for yearly Christmas cards that I make, as well as just visuals. Sometimes you won’t remember just why you made the image after time, but the effort will bring back a wave of good thoughts even if you forget the specifics.

35 Bill McNutt December 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Anybody know why It’s a Wonderful Life is a seasonal classic everyone knows?

Everyone’s seen it, a bajillion times. Why? Well, it’s on TV. All the time. Every year. On all channels.

Apparently, somebody goofed back in the day, and It’s a Wonderful Life is actually in the public domain. Apparently, anyone can broadcast it at any time.

Not sure how that happened, but it did.

36 Bill McNutt December 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Whooops. I was giving you out-of-date information. Apparently, Hollywood was able to jerk It’s a Wonderful Life back out of the public domain.


37 nbb December 7, 2012 at 12:26 am

When im feeling cynical, i visit AOM. The articles are thought provoking and reminds me of the bigger picture of life.

38 Ben Leidemann December 7, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Cynicism is like ire or hate but a fruit of sadness.
If something makes you sad (including non-met expectations), usually its but a question of time until sadness turns into a rather “unmanly” emotion.
You ask the druid for a solution?
If your love for all concious beings is bigger than the sadness about their unmanly deeds – you will be free of unmanly emotions.
Erhm: I am not a cleric, just a druid, so this works very well in civil life.
Have a nice Christmas and thanks for inspiring me to grow a beard ;-)))

39 S December 8, 2012 at 5:07 am

I recently tossed the gratitude journal after about a year, as it wasn’t doing anything for me.

Gonna give this a shot, thanks for the guidance!

40 A6 December 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Oh the AOM, it’s been quite a while; I thought I’d never be able to connect again after Hurricane Sandy. Ironically enough, I’m thankful for having access to this site once again and constantly learning from the insights of Brett and Kate, his fellow readers and their countless, varying and often insightful viewpoints.
There actually is someone in my life whom I’ve tried to imagine a life without. Sadly, I can imagine a life without her because we broke up and we’re no longer together. I often sit around for hours on my laptop looking over old pictures and memories and they come back like just like it was yesterday. I’m thankful to have met her and for the fond memories, it was fun while it lasted.

41 Ghsot of 503 December 17, 2012 at 3:25 am

Personal method: Pick every one of the major holidays in the US (or your respective nation if you’re not from the states) and make a vow to yourself, hellbent, on making that day memorable. Or pick one day a month to do the same thing.

Personal list: New Year’s Eve & Day, St Patricks, Easter, June 16th (a sort of New Year’s for students but one worth it because you can catch up with old friends on becaue as a kid, what was more memorable then the last day of school?), July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Friendmas (pick a “friends only” day for a party before Christmas, trust me)

The best way to avoid cynicism is taking a day, hopefully one a month, to touch base with those who mean the most to you, especially beyond the family.

42 K December 17, 2012 at 11:20 am

Maybe the key is finding to whom you should be thanking. ?? Life is pretty meaningless if you are grateful for everything but have nothing on which to place that gratitude.

43 Matt Carrington December 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Another great read. Thanks Brett!

44 Daniel December 21, 2012 at 9:22 am

Excellent post. Nothing wrong with gratitude journals and if they work for people, that’s great. But, as you note, they don’t work for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that either. This method is one among several that might be called “positive negative thinking,” or negative thinking not as a way to indulge in misery or self-pity but as way to glean fresh perspective.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my favorite films so thank you for weaving that into this essay.

45 Brubeck January 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for the article, Brett. It’s another reminder that we all need to refresh our perspective.

It’s so true that cynicism gives way to passivity. We don’t bother if we think we already know what the outcome is and we don’t like it.

Also, I think the idea of cynicism is somewhat misplaced. Cynicism is always bad, but it’s an expected side-effect of experience. We naturally become cynical on account of our particular experiences in life. You might be cynical about the guys at the local tire shop, but that may because of how they treated you in the past.

46 JR January 10, 2013 at 6:51 am

Very interesting. I understand the point. Unfortunately – probably just Little Old Pessimist Me – but I am reminded of the problem I have always had with the idea of correcting “defective thinking” by means of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is this – what if you are really a chronically depressed failure and serial alcohol abuser, and not really a very nice, positive or productive human being ? Mere perception, you say – but this perceived reality may have been constructed though a succession of painfully objective events, bolstered by deep-held values going back to early childhood. In such a scenario, could the hoped-for positive effects of CBT be stood on its head ? Or, in the “Wonderful Life” scenario, might George have been persuaded that faced with bleak evil of the world, he might as well just throw himself off the bridge, anyway. In any case, interesting idea. Must give it a try. Should it not work I have the advantage of long ago having picked out my favourite Bridge. Just kidding (not), JR.

47 Edward Oak November 26, 2013 at 11:19 am

J.K. Rowling’s depressing new book “The Casual Vacancy” is a great anti-George Bailey study.
The basic premise of the book is that “George Bailey” (actually a Barry Fairbrother) does die, turning the little town of Pagford into the hell hole Bedford Falls might have become. When I read this book, that’s the first thing I thought of. For me, it was a reminder of the implications of even our smallest acts of kindness as we find the opportunity to spread the love around!

48 marymargaret parker November 27, 2013 at 1:42 pm

What a great article. As a therapist, I plan to use this technique with one of my anger management clients. Let’s see if it can help him get “unstuck” and thanks for the book tip as well. Marymargaret Parker, LMFT

49 putterpusher December 2, 2013 at 6:13 pm

LOL Man we sing about this every Sunday
Count your blessings
name them one by one
count your blessings
see what God has done

50 Kevin December 3, 2013 at 3:56 am

On the other hand, there’s this old saying. “Ever wonder if you’ll be missed when you’re gone? Put your hand in a bucket of water and then pull it out. Does it leave a hole?” I try not to think about that.

51 Allen December 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Optimism is as logically unsound as pessimism.Only pessimism get’s the bad rap because many pessimists are unhappy people.
Optimism is defined as: A tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.

Most optimists have no good reason to expect the best possible outcome. They simply do it to sound ‘positive’.
This might sound alright, until one thinks about the logical error they have just committed. They have no good reason to expect the best possible outcome for the future, yet they do expect exactly that. That is being unreasonable.
So, then, what position is best to take in regards to the future.
Neither optimism nor pessimism. Instead, realism.Here’s how I define this term
Realism- The tendency to expect the most reasonable and or likely outcome in regards to a situation to happen in the future. The realist also doesn’t state his predictions as absolute truth due to the fact that he does not know the future.
This position is best because it is the most likely one to predict the future accurately.

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