Back-Door Gratitude: How to be Thankful When the Glass is Half Empty

by | Updated: June 14th, 2018 | Read time: 2 minutes

If trying to be thankful hasn’t worked for you, take heart. Lots of us feel patronized when asked to remember all our blessings.

Instead, give back-door gratitude a chance.

Stressed Out Woman at Desk Taking a Moment to Find Gratitude |

What does gratitude mean? Back-door gratitude doesn’t make you say thanks for whatever is going well in your life. That’s the obvious stuff, for most folks anyway. And if you’re a glass-is-half-empty type you’re not wired to think of the good stuff, anyway. You’re thinking: calamity.

So instead, think of all the things that are not wrong – all those near-calamity misses. That list is awesomely long, and it works for people who aren’t cynics too.

There is, quite literally, an endless number of things that could be wrong (or, to be accurate, not the way you think you want them to be), in any moment, for every single one of us.

But you’re not in any of those parallel universes. You’re in this one. The one where those things haven’t gone haywire. In other words: No matter how bad things are, they can always be worse (or, to be accurate, what you think would be worse).

We don’t usually look at life through this lens. Why would we? It takes a lot more energy. Plus, unless you’re practicing back-door gratitude it can seem irrelevant precisely because you’re not in those parallel worlds.

Endless options

Back-door gratitude gets you thinking.

You notice all the alternative trajectories your life could have taken, from the small (which cell phone you bought – good thing it’s not one that catches fire) to the large (which profession you pursued – good thing it’s not one that puts you in the line of fire).

If you’re shaking your head because you bought a Samsung Galaxy or you’re a police officer, there’s no doubt you can plug other circumstances into those parenthesis.

Or maybe you’re cool with your melting phone because it got you thinking about electronics, your latest passion. And you love being a cop because it’s your calling no matter the risks. Also looks like you might be feeling the normal thankful thing you thought you couldn’t muster.

Learning to surrender

Back-door gratitude teaches you to surrender.

Bad stuff can happen all the time. But we experience only the bad stuff that actually happens. We also sometimes have zero control over it happening (a sinkhole in your parking lot, getting rear-ended at a stoplight). When you think of all the bad stuff you’ve avoided, it’s pretty amazing.

And that’s a lot to be thankful for.

Connect with journalist and wellness writer Mitra Malek at