A dog doing a trick for a biscuit

The Dark Power . . . ARF! . . . of Cheap Tricks

I recall an event, a long time ago, when I was feeling a bit blue. At the suggestion of a friend, I made what is sometimes referred to as a gratitude list. He promised me that this had helped him and that it was his regular practice.

At his direction, I itemized all of the positive things I had in life and taped it to my computer monitor. I looked at it. I read a few of the items listed. About halfway down the list, a sudden feeling of well-being came over me. It was like a wave. Things were not so bad after all. Nothing had changed, but I felt relieved. I went about my business happy as a lark.

About an hour later I felt terrible again. So I went back to the list—read it once more. Again, I got a little uplift. It was as if I had taken a shot of brandy. 

Then it struck me. And I’m sure it has you, too, now as you read this. Holy moly! Anything that causes one suffering from anxiety, depression, or fear to feel better without them becoming better, eventually causes them to become worse. It’s a fleeting fix . . . a coverup . . . a placebo.

A gratitude list is dope. It’s a psychotropic substance by its nature. Delivered via paper and ink rather than injected or smoked, it is tantamount to writing a prescription for one’s own antidepressant medication. Writing it, reading it gives one a fat dose of dopamine to anesthetize the pain of a disturbed conscience, just as surely as does any intoxicating substance or behavior.

Such self-indulgence seems noble since it is apparently substance-free. And if you ask your “Self,” It will agree. At least you’re not drinking or drugging. But make no mistake . . . it’s dope. It’s artificial—hypnotic and addicting, too. Using it will get you high while fixing . . . absolutely nothing. 

The need to draw up gratitude lists, take a drink, or seek approval indicates an individual still bonded to a lower Self, who’s not free of anger and still subject to resentfulness. Cheap tricks to raise self-esteem only impede progress toward freedom. 

They keep the desperate person spiritually ill and feeling miserable until the next fix comes along—another list or some other trick. I woke up from the experience to realize what I had done. I felt shame. 

My friend was certainly well-meaning. He had been sober for many decades. In fact, he was one of the original old-time AA pioneers in New England. (I learned later that others in the recovery fellowship had shown him this little ‘device’.) But he had become hooked on cheap tricks like this one. George has been dead for a long time now, but then, for me, this was a lesson learned that I’ve never forgotten.

It’s good to be free and to have natural gratitude . . . a joy for life that isn’t reliant on doing things to earn treats. I am not a puppy and God is not a dog trainer. He’s a Father who disciplines with love, not biscuits. Sometimes it is uncomfortable. Intuitive correction is that way. But it is love never-the-less, surely forgiving even if at times painful.

I’ve never done anything like that since. I haven’t had to either. I don’t ever seek relief from the temptation to judge myself or others. I just watch the temptation, observing all emotion as it crops up . . . the good, the bad, and the ugly, too. They pass and I remain unscathed. 

I have never been angry, fearful, depressed, or anxious since. You can live this way, too.

The solution to depression, the major kind as well as the seasonal or situational kind, lies with conscious awareness, not coverups or artificial means that modify feelings but do not address the cause. 

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  1. Aran on October 12, 2021 at 9:02 am

    It has to come from an inner awakening or awareness which will always be within . Great piece Dan hope you are well and at peace .

    • Dan Schwarzhoff on October 22, 2021 at 11:11 am

      True. Thanks Aran

  2. Aran on October 12, 2021 at 9:03 am

    Good piece

  3. Sandarah Abrahamson-Amun on October 12, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Excellent blog. I was just thinking about writing a gratitude list when this popped up and I could immediately see the thrall of the lower self pulling me down and then into another waste of time. Thanks for the wake up call.

  4. Dan Schwarzhoff on October 22, 2021 at 10:44 am

    You could do it. It’ll work . . . for a few hours maybe. But yes. And you present a picture even more dire than mine LOL but true never-the-less. That lower-self, that wants to play God, is cunning. The moment someone sits down to write a list to feel better without actually becoming better is no different from the moment that one decides to take a swig of liquor, or to look up his drug dealers phone number. It is an egoistic seeking of relief by any means without getting to the causes and conditions that instigate the pain in the first place. Thanks Sandarah

  5. Jeanne on October 23, 2021 at 7:32 am

    So a gratitude list, it’s a temporary fix. Who knew ?
    Mind blown

    • Dan S on January 4, 2022 at 2:30 pm

      Yes, and some people become addicted to such little exercises and other mind tricks to get a little ‘splashes’ of happiness – as if their happiness and feelings were the goals in this life. There are entire cultures based on that. Durable peace comes from within lasts and is WAY better than simply “feeling good” or what we think of as ‘happiness’ – especially the pleasures we do not deserve to experience but are conditioned by the world to THINK that we do.

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