All about the mind

The gratitude myth

Gratitude is big these days. There are memes on gratitude, quotes on gratitude, gratitude journals galore and even workshops on gratitude! We are told, particularly in the developed and developing world, to focus on all that we have. We have a roof over our head, we have food on the table, we have a job to go to, good healthcare options, good education, access to technology, everything. All very valid things to be grateful for.

We are told to think about those less fortunate. Of those who might not have food or shelter. We laugh about our problems as #firstworldproblems. And yes, in all honesty, some of them may be just that. While there are studies showing the focus on gratitude decreases the chances of depression and makes life more fulfilling, I will admit, I am not a complete believer.

Because what we don’t seem to talk about is the negative effect of this emphasis on gratitude.

With all this emphasis on gratitude comes a whole lot of guilt.

Guilty for feeling sad when you have a roof over your head or for that matter, a million dollar mansion. Guilty for feeling angry when you have expensive clothes to wear. Guilty for feeling sad when you have a good job, a decent income, a good family. Guilty for feeling anxious when you seemingly have everything going well for you. Guilty for feeling sad when you have a comfortable bed to sleep in at night.

The fact is, it’s okay to feel all those feelings while still being grateful for what you have. But because as a society, we put so much emphasis on needing to be grateful, it seems to have become mutually exclusive from feelings of sadness, anxiety or anger. I see so many clients who feel incredible amounts of guilt because they come from middle to upper class families and have opportunities in life. They feel awful for feeling sad. They feel like they have no right to feel this way. That their lives aren’t that bad after all.

Mental health does not discriminate. You could be the richest person in the world and still suffer from it. The guilt only exacerbates it because you are unlikely to seek help. You, and those around you, continue to invalidate how you feel because after all, with a perfect life, why should you feel this way?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be grateful for what we have. I’m not denying that at times, gratitude can make you feel content. All I am saying is we shouldn’t make it the cornerstone of general wellbeing. Because it isn’t. Just as you can’t be happy all the time no matter how good you’ve got it, it’s hard to be grateful all the time and at the end of every day.

We need to stop idealising gratitude as being something that can prevent us from feeling sad. Or even as something that will make sadness ‘better’. Because it’s ok to be sad sometimes. It’s ok to experience anger and frustration and worry without being forced to change it all.

In the end, nothing lasts forever. Not gratitude. Not happiness. Not sadness.

What are your views on gratitude?

Do you think focussing on it every day can result in guilt when you don’t feel great?

Do share!!!

***Linking with Jess for IBOT, Mackenzie for MG, Corinne for Monday Musings***

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

SANCH_sig1

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  • dani @ sand has no home
    May 10, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I think it is nice to have some gratitude but to keep it all relative and intuitive, to be mindful of your gratitude. I had a friend in Thailand who used to tell it was a Thai thing to say a kind of grace, in which you thank the rice. I think that is a lovely, humble form of gratitude, available to all. To say a small prayer of reverence for what you have, and then to eat.

  • dani @ sand has no home
    May 10, 2016 at 8:37 am

    I think it is nice to have some gratitude but to keep it all relative and intuitive, to be mindful of your gratitude. I had a friend in Thailand who used to tell it was a Thai thing to say a kind of grace, in which you thank the rice. I think that is a lovely, humble form of gratitude, available to all. To say a small prayer of reverence for what you have, and then to eat.

  • Radhika - Fulltime Nomad
    May 10, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Sanch, this is really well-written. I am currently doing a gratitude journal as a practice for mindfulness. I felt like I was rushing through my days without really pausing to put much thought into how my days were going. So every night I sit down, think about my day and write down one thing I was grateful for on that day. Last week I had an incredibly stressful week and when I sat down to write down my “thing I’m grateful for” – I struggled and then got annoyed with myself for not feeling grateful. After 2 of these days of not being able to find it in me to be grateful for something, I decided that it was ok to have days where you just feel a bit down and stressed and negative. Looking for something to be grateful for was adding to my stress so I just decided to let it be and let myself be negative for a couple of days. I’m glad I did, and now I’m back to feeling better and grateful again 🙂

  • Radhika - Fulltime Nomad
    May 10, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Sanch, this is really well-written. I am currently doing a gratitude journal as a practice for mindfulness. I felt like I was rushing through my days without really pausing to put much thought into how my days were going. So every night I sit down, think about my day and write down one thing I was grateful for on that day. Last week I had an incredibly stressful week and when I sat down to write down my “thing I’m grateful for” – I struggled and then got annoyed with myself for not feeling grateful. After 2 of these days of not being able to find it in me to be grateful for something, I decided that it was ok to have days where you just feel a bit down and stressed and negative. Looking for something to be grateful for was adding to my stress so I just decided to let it be and let myself be negative for a couple of days. I’m glad I did, and now I’m back to feeling better and grateful again 🙂

  • jess
    May 10, 2016 at 9:46 am

    While I agree that sometimes the emphasis on gratitude can be too extreme and cause guilt, I don’t think the purpose is to be grateful for everything, everyday, nor is it that you can’t still have shitty days or experience negative emotion. The Instagram posts and memes may suggest happy people are grateful all the time, but that just isn’t true! But finding the smallest thing to be grateful for (a good coffee!) each day can help counteract some of the more negative experiences.
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  • jess
    May 10, 2016 at 9:46 am

    While I agree that sometimes the emphasis on gratitude can be too extreme and cause guilt, I don’t think the purpose is to be grateful for everything, everyday, nor is it that you can’t still have shitty days or experience negative emotion. The Instagram posts and memes may suggest happy people are grateful all the time, but that just isn’t true! But finding the smallest thing to be grateful for (a good coffee!) each day can help counteract some of the more negative experiences.
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  • Kathy
    May 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

    I think the answer is finding things large and small to be grateful for without getting attached to things, not feeling guilty about anything (unless you have really done something wrong) and sitting with moments of sadness, frustration etc and not feeling guilty for them – as you say knowing that ‘this too shall pass’. Really great points you make in the post Sanch – mostly its our personal relationships that can leave us feeling sad and these have little to do with the things and opportunities we are grateful to have.

  • Kathy
    May 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

    I think the answer is finding things large and small to be grateful for without getting attached to things, not feeling guilty about anything (unless you have really done something wrong) and sitting with moments of sadness, frustration etc and not feeling guilty for them – as you say knowing that ‘this too shall pass’. Really great points you make in the post Sanch – mostly its our personal relationships that can leave us feeling sad and these have little to do with the things and opportunities we are grateful to have.

  • Vanessa
    May 10, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Gratitude is small doses is fine. Years ago when I was trying to move out of a less than desirable job, someone told me at least I have a job and a roof over my head. I didn’t feel grateful, I felt miserable. Emotions don’t discriminate and if you don’t like something, then you don’t have to feel grateful for it!

  • Vanessa
    May 10, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Gratitude is small doses is fine. Years ago when I was trying to move out of a less than desirable job, someone told me at least I have a job and a roof over my head. I didn’t feel grateful, I felt miserable. Emotions don’t discriminate and if you don’t like something, then you don’t have to feel grateful for it!

  • Mary
    May 10, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    I think we need to remember balance. I am grateful but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days or that things don’t frustrate me. Its part of the human existence to experience a myriad of feelings, even guilt sometimes. Its what we do with these feelings and how we react to them that determines much of our happiness. I think it’s great that you help people to realize that we will experience life in different ways at different times. Its all part of life.
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  • Denyse
    May 10, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I’m such a work-in-progress at the moment trying to get my ‘new life’ together as both a retiree and an ageing person. Neither of these events are earth-shattering …but to me they are big events. I am doing my ‘best’ to move along, be mindful and let my anxiety be part of me…and all that too. Yet, I ask myself ‘what have I got to be anxious about?’ and guess what….I need to take the time to accept that for me, this is a grieving period and it produces emotions in me that are quite uncomfortable. I do my blog, my art, walk, practice mindfulness, write a bit each day about gratitude, chill out and more….It’s life I guess! That imperfect one you write about!! Warm wishes, Denyse #teamIBOT
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  • Vishal Bheeroo
    May 10, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    A powerful post on Gratitude where we should reflect on what we have. Like they say, there is still a silver lining in the cloud, when the going gets tough.
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  • Ashleigh My Meow
    May 10, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Agree. I am guilty of feeling guilty and ungrateful when I should be SO grateful. But suffering is relative. And sometimes we need to let ourselves experience emotions.
    Ashleigh My Meow recently posted…Advice You Wish You Heard In SchoolMy Profile

  • Min@WriteoftheMiddle
    May 10, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    Some really thought provoking points Sanch! I guess that guilt could be an issue for some that believe they should be grateful for most things due to living a fortunate life. For me though, practicing gratitude is not about focussing on the big things, it’s about the little things, the things money can’t buy – like a smile from your child, or a butterfly on a flower, or a beautiful sunrise, or when someone does something nice for you. Things like that. Back in 2013 I did a 365 Grateful Project where I took a photo a day of something I was grateful for and though at first it was really hard, I eventually got into the swing of it and the thing I discovered through the whole process was that it was the little things that I was most grateful for and the best thing was that by the end of the project I found that I was not having to think back over the day to find a thing to be grateful for, it had become habit to notice things I was grateful for as they happened. In saying all that though – I do agree with you that sometimes we can feel guilty for not being happy or for feeling sad when we think we should be happy because for example we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge etc. No-one is happy all the time though and as you say – mental health issues can affect anyone – rich, poor or otherwise!
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  • EssentiallyJess
    May 10, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    I had a friend that found a gratitude journal was key in her overcoming PND, so I think it definitely has its merits.
    The problem comes when people are not allowed to be real about their feelings because it makes them ‘ungrateful’. Maybe, if all you’re doing is complaining, then trying to find the good is a good thing, but I think most of us just need to rant occasionally and get it out of our system. And then feel grateful we have people we can do that with 🙂
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  • Sid
    May 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    I reckon the problem with ‘gratitude’ these days, is much like everything else – it’s way overdone on social media and everything that has public viewership. In fact, most of the people who harp on about gratitude, wouldn’t probably think twice about being happy with what they had or just saying a thank you for the person who just held the door open for them, out of courtesy.
    Having said that though, there is some reasoning behind this sudden set of gratitude posts – we’ve gone way past the point where even a simple thank you has become a rarity. And sometimes, it’s nice to remind yourself about the little things in your life that you should be thankful for, but tend to overlook.
    Thought-provoking post, Sanch. as usual 🙂
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  • Parul
    May 11, 2016 at 2:41 am

    Excess of anything is harmful and so it is with gratitude. I am thankful that I have a roof over my head and by chance this was on my monthly gratitude list this month. using comment luv to share that. I do not feel guilty when I do not see myself being grateful but I try to look at the positive side of it. I am grateful on a normal day also and by being grateful, this is what I think it means – be kind and appreciate the good to you around. Overdone – may be? 🙂

    I liked your take and it is different .
    Parul recently posted…Gratitude List – April 2016My Profile

  • Paula
    May 11, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Exactly! It’s ok to feel however you need to feel while still being grateful. No one should feel guilty for just being human! Great post!
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  • Dashy
    May 11, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Well yes, it is good to express our gratitude everyday..but we needn’t focus on it to shoo away our sadness. One could express it in the form of a daily prayer and that does make things look better, even if it is in the tiniest way. It is okay to feel sad yes. But I feel there is no need to feel guilty of all that you have as long as you’ve earned them with your own efforts.
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  • Mackenzie Glanville
    May 14, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    interesting post. I do think gratitude makes me happier, but I also agree with it being OK to have moments where we say “poor me”. Just because we have a home and food doesn’t mean we can not experience deep sadness. I struggled with this for a long time. As a teen I had friends who mostly came from broken homes, some had drug addicted siblings, one had a mother who tried to burn down their home, another had a mother who was hardly home because she was out seeking a man. I had a happy family, and I was so grateful for that, but I also had experiences of sadness, and I suffered anxiety. If I tried to talk to my friends about “my issues” they would literally laugh at me and treat me like I was silly or selfish for complaining. My issues were trivial to them, and it made me start to close up and withdraw and not speak about any problems I was experiencing. When at 19 I was seriously abused I told no one, as I thought no one would care. I held in my pain for years until I had a break down and was diagnosed with depression and had to seek rape counselling. No one should be made to feel their problems don’t matter. We all matter! Great post! And thank you for sharing #mg
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