I was feeling a little depressed this winter. I mentioned this to several people, one of whom suggested that I try keeping a Gratitude Journal. Since I had no idea what the hell that was, I looked it up.
Apparently, studies have shown that "people from primitive societies, such as Papua New Guinea” don’t experience depression. This is now common knowledge in our society, apparently, because the study was once featured on Oprah. And according to Oprah and somebody who studies things, people from primitive societies don’t get depressed because they have low expectations about what happiness means.
This was a lot of new information for me to take in all at once. First I learn about the Gratitude Journal. Now they're telling me about a place called Papua New Guinea. Well, I may have heard the name, Papua New Guinea, but I didn’t know it was a primitive society. I didn't even know it was acceptable, in this day and age, to use the word primitive. Doesn't that label sound a little culturally insensitive? I mean, I’ve never once heard it used in reference to Honey Boo Boo’s family, and they could be an entire chapter in an anthropology textbook. I guess it's only OK to use the word primitive if the primitives under question are thin, happy, and there is no chance they will ever turn on a television and hear someone calling them primitive.
Now that I understand what a Gratitude Journal is, however, I have decided that I am not going to keep one. For future reference, here are my five reasons:
1. Studying People Who Live in Primitive Societies Is Important, But I Don’t Live in A Primitive Society. I live in a Society With Oprah.
Studying primitive societies can teach us a lot of really important things. We got yoga, for example, from the ancient Indians. My lower back is truly grateful for that, and so are hordes of excessively sweaty, shirtless men.
We got the practice of baby wearing from ancient cultures everywhere, and it has become a staple practice in attachment parenting. Personally, I think it’s an easier way to transport an infant. And if it makes stroller-using parents feel like they’re pushing their babies around on a bed of nails, then so be it. I don't care if you have a bad back. Suck it up and try some yoga.
We got yogurt from modern Europeans, who probably got it from ancient Turkey. There is mounting evidence that the microbes in all yogurts are healthy for our digestive systems. In recent years, a rich and creamy style known as Greek Yogurt has become very popular in our country. And that’s great because now our shitty economy is not the only thing we have in common with the people of Greece.
Well, I understand why some people might want to adopt the spiritual outlook of a primitive people. The people of Papua New Guinea are happy, and they don’t even have fancy clothes or vacation homes. Then again, the primitive people of Papua New Guinea also don’t have clothes, or vacations, or homes. Trying to adopt the spiritual outlook of a group of people whose society is so dramatically different from ours seems like a recipe for failure. Can I be happy without a vacation home? Absolutely. I’ve lived my whole miserable life without a vacation home, in fact. But Oprah doesn’t exactly seem suicidal either and at last count, she owned about six vacation homes.
So I have to push the field of anthropology on this point. Would the primitive people of Papua New Guinea feel as happy if -- every time they turned on their non-existent televisions -- they saw another program about an extremely rich and famous person's vacation homes? Or a documentary about Richard Branson’s islands? I went to a Madonna concert last year, at which she encouraged a stadium full of people, who had already spent hundreds of dollars to buy tickets to her show, to buy her 50 dollar tee shirts. She has a lot of kids, she said, and they “always need new shoes.” Kaballah, anyone?
2. I Already Feel Grateful About the Small Things. It’s the Big Things That Depress Me.
I love my morning bowl of yogurt. I also love my family. I enjoy steamy hot showers and a scrubbing my back with a loofah. I like the word loofah. I’m so crazy about my male cat that I sometimes try to make out with him. I have a foodie crush on my multi-function toaster oven. And even though I have a stone cold heart in the face of Madonna’s poor shoeless children, my heart melts to liquid every time I watch a bunch of preschoolers with plastic bats try to make contact with a piñata.
And yet, there are other things in my life that make me feel sad. I spend a lot of time writing shit that nobody reads. Like all aspiring writers, I get rejected a lot. When I’m not writing unpublished works of totally questionable genius, I’m working as a stay-at-home mother. Yes, I said working. And yet, my children tell me on a regular basis that I have stinky breath, usually when I’m holding them in a loving embrace. So sometimes, my daily grind can feel… unimportant. When feeling unimportant doesn't go away with a few shots of whiskey, I can feel depressed.
Someday, I will probably be done chasing my dreams. Someday, those big things won’t be an issue anymore. Someday – and unless Oprah gives me one of her vacation homes -- I’ll be happy just to sit around in my old folk’s home, get dressed up to kick some ass on scrabble night, and drink warm milk while I pray to God that if I have a heart attack, the nurses won't step aside and let me die.
But at least some of my blue moods are related to frustrated ambitions. And I just don't think that focusing in on the small things is likely to change that. Could I spend every night writing down how grateful I am for my free ladies’ Zumba class at the Y, for the discarded wooden giraffe statue I found on the curb, or for the joy of taking my first successful meatless meatloaf out of my multi-function toaster oven? Yes, I could. But seen in another light: How many acknowledgements pages on bestselling novels have ever included the word Zumba?
3. Studies Show that Happiness Depends On Low Expectations. But More Exposure to Sunlight Probably Helps Too.
I noted that before this whole Gratitude Journal craze, I had never heard of Papua New Guinea. Well, I know something about it now, because I looked it up.
And here's what I know. It’s near Australia. And it's on the equator. And while I didn’t actually read this for a fact, I am guessing – based on the images I saw on the internet of Papua New Guinean men standing around in penis sheaths -- that the primitive people of Papua New Guinea do not have very long winters.
Whereas I live in a climate where the outdoor temperature stays below freezing for almost 4 months. It’s early March now, and we just got ten more inches of snow. Since the end of November, there hasn’t been one day – not a single day -- that we have even considered going outside in penis sheaths. And that makes a lot of sense. Because during the Wisconsin winter, the sun’s rays are so weak that even if you did go outside wearing nothing but a penis sheath, you still wouldn't get enough vitamin D. I'm not a TV doctor. But these are the facts.
4. I'm All About Self-Acceptance.
I understand the human instinct to try and change the behavior of a depressed person. Depressed people can be depressing, especially when they insist on talking about it. And it has to be really annoying for positive people – who can soar for days on the emotional high of a successful meatless meatloaf – when their depressed friends or family members refuse to try a few simple, holistic suggestions.
I don’t begrudge anyone their positive outlook. But the truth is, I find happy, positive people kind of annoying. I mean, really. Have you seen the statistics on global warming lately -- what the fuck are you smiling about? To paraphrase Jack Black, the earth is turning to poop. I like people who rant and complain and aren’t afraid to talk about how everything sucks. Or how sucky they feel, because no matter how hard they try, they still suck at Zumba. You want me to keep a Gratitude Journal? What a coincidence. Because I want you to shut up.
It’s not my fault that I’m like this. My husband says that deep down, my personality is a three-way tie between Larry David, Lewis Black, and Woody Allen. I can’t explain that. I don’t know how an Irish Catholic girl raised in the Midwest grows up to have the personality of a bunch of anxious, ranting Jewish male comedians. But that is what happened. And I'm OK with it, because those guys cheer me up. And no Gratitude Journal is likely to change it.
Here, for the record, is a list of other things that are unlikely to change it: Scrapbooking, Antiquing, Knitting, Origami, Gardening, and Zumba.
5. The Only Thing That Depresses Me More Than Being Depressed is Taking Pop Psych Advice from A Daytime Talk Show.
When I feel bad, sometimes I think I should just give up and watch daytime talk shows all day. Daytime talk shows are full of inspirational messages designed to help women like me live more productive, healthy, and happy lives. I mean, they can be confusing. Some weeks, they talk about the importance of scaling back our expectations, getting enough sunlight, accepting ourselves, and being culturally sensitive. Other weeks, I turn on The View and listen to a panel of women prattle on about how I should raise my expectations, stay out of the sun, avoid negative people, and adopt the cultural attitudes of primitive people.
Just kidding, I don’t watch The View. I haven’t watched that show since 2005, when Barbara Walters said she didn’t want women to breastfeed on airplanes. I thought that was a little anti-feminist. And also, not very culturally sensitive. Because breastfeeding is a very popular habit among the primitive people of Papua New Guinea. I know that because I saw it on Oprah.
I do like some daytime talk shows. I like Kelly Ripa, because she’s the peppiest human on this planet Earth. I love Ellen, because she’s funny and is also the official inspirational life coach for the planet Earth. But if I had to spend an hour every day watching Dr. Phil, or Dr. Oz, or The Doctors – the doctor show so informative, it has four doctors-hosts – I would probably end up smothering myself with the empty pages of my Gratitude Journal.
In the end, maybe the primitive people of Papua New Guinea are happier – not because they have lower expectations – but because they don’t have televisions. I’m pretty sure it’s either that, or the penis sheaths.
But since I don't live in Papua New Guinea, I'm going to stick with my old tried and true remedies: Whiskey. Yoga. And Ranting.