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?
Until next time,