How to love yourself more

When someone first suggested I try this, I thought it sounded very self-centered, maybe even a little pathetic. Was my self-esteem so low that I had to shower myself with compliments? (It turns out that some days I do have to.) But over time, I realized that what seemed easy at first was actually kind of revolutionary.

I’d tried practicing gratitude before and found it quite effective. You take a few minutes to write down things you’re grateful for: the kindness of a stranger, the way your child looks at you as you read a bedtime story, the smell of honeysuckle as you ride your bike past that one tree. You remind yourself how lucky you are, that while you’re brooding, regretting, or despairing, all of these good things, people, and opportunities are part of your story, too.

With gratitude you think of things outside yourself. You remember that you are not alone, that there is more going on in your life than what is in your head, and this offers perspective. A practice of appreciation involves thinking about yourself, but it is not the opposite of gratitude; it is a refraction of it. It’s expressing gratitude for yourself, which feels conceited at first, but ultimately seems to me to be anything but.

If I leave it to myself, my mind will examine the day like a detective, looking for things I did wrong, could have done better, or didn’t do at all. With an appreciation exercise, I start with, “What did I do well today?” These are the behaviors and moments we don’t usually dwell on, because they’re usually the parts of the day with the least amount of tension. They’re not the kind of headlines you’d think to tell someone who’s asked how your day went. They’re not funny or annoying. They’re not really appropriate for a cocktail party.

But the cumulative effect of remembering these situations, day after day, is that you begin to see patterns in your behavior, to notice the positive effect you have on those around you. And when you see that, you start to like yourself more. And who couldn’t bear to like themselves more?

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