A Game to Get You Un-Stuck on Crappy Feelings
I started doing this when I needed it, and now I use it all the time
My friend Anna once joked that before we both got married (not to each other), we dated each other for years (open relationship, technically speaking). We would do lovely dinners at spots we’d added to our mental lists, saving them for each other. We’d day-drink Sancerre on weekends and then take long, chilly walks through lower Manhattan, telling each other everything. We went to Miami once and shared a bed. Our early thirties were super fun! And also hard.
At our dinners, we sometimes played a game we called Five Nice Things. It is what it sounds like: You take turns naming things that are nice. Five is the number. It can be a thing that makes you happy, a compliment for the other person, a win at work, “This broccoli is tasty,” whatever. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s not the sappiest, and the rules were: Don’t overthink it, and be specific. We’d roll it out in other settings: group hangs, work, whatnot. It was, generally speaking, a hit. Even Eeyores can get into it if you bring to the game your Tigger energy. But it was most meaningful when it was just the two of us.
We named the game, but we didn’t invent it, obviously. It’s just a less-corny name for a gratitude exercise, which is a practice as old as the Buddha. The game has the power to knock out a temporary funk. Or a big one. There seems to be some science to support this.
Here’s a thing that is not nice, and also true: The vast majority of people in the United States die when they are quite old. (If you like looking at data, you can see the breakdown by age here.) All death brings great grief, and the point I am about to make does not discount that; it’s just different. We are a species whose attitudes are informed by norms. When someone you love dies when they are not old, it is not normal. And when that happens, a thin veil goes up between you and most other people.
You ask yourself: Did someone else put up that veil, scared of catching death? Or did you, scared that your pain might be seen? I think it’s a combination of both, and I think this is fine. As was said to me recently by a friend facing early, anticipatory grief (I am paraphrasing): “I feel lonely. But people are…