The Problem with Gratitude
Here at Mindful Therapies our attitude of the month for March is gratitude. We have had a lot to say over the years about the importance and benefits of gratitude:
Gratitude: antidote to New Years Resolutions ; Gratitude in the workplace ; Gratitude in relationships ; Deepening practice and more.
This post is from guest blogger The Happy Squirrel who has something to say about the pitfalls of gratitude. You can follow the Happy Squirrel by visiting www.thehappysquirrel.uk and if you visit before 14th March you can sign up to the 7 day gratitude challenge.
Before launching into the problem with gratitude I want to say that I am actually a big fan of gratitude. It is the practice that has probably had the biggest impact on my life. When I am feeling down or stressed I really value the ability to notice the positive and the beautiful in my life.
- The problem with gratitude is that it can feel like another pressure and another thing to feel guilty about. Sometimes when we are feeling particularly low, we simply don’t feel grateful. We know that we have a lot to be grateful for but we just don’t feel it. I have spoken to a lot of people recently who tell me ‘I know I should feel grateful but I don’t. Am I a bad person?’ Instead of gratitude being a positive practice, it becomes another stick to beat ourselves with. So what is the answer? The answer is that gratitude is a practice not a feeling. We plant seeds by noticing things that we could feel grateful for and we notice how that feels. However, we don’t force ourselves to feel anything. And if we don’t feel grateful that’s absolutely fine. It doesn’t make us a bad person! Don’t add another layer of guilt!
We have control over our thoughts. Although we don’t choose the thoughts that pop in, we can choose which ones to feed and which ones to let go of. We can’t control how we feel. By practising gratitude we can set an intention to feel grateful but we can’t force it! That will just leave us feeling like we have failed if we don’t get the outcome we are looking for. It is a case of ‘fake it till you make it.’ Develop thoughts of gratitude and sometimes the feeling will follow. You might try developing a gratitude practice by visiting www.thehappysquirrel.uk and signing up to the 7-day gratitude challenge.
- Many of us associate gratitude with being told that we should be grateful for what we have, and this is often done to control or silence us. Maybe you were told as a child that you should eat all your dinner because there are starving children in Africa and you should be grateful for what you are given? Maybe you are unhappy at work and you are told that you should be grateful that you have a job? Maybe you are being mistreated by your landlord and you feel that you shouldn’t complain because there are other people worse-off and you should be grateful not to be homeless? This is a total misunderstanding of gratitude!
It is possible to be grateful for what you have and still stand up for the injustices that you are experiencing. It is about seeing the bigger picture. The bigger picture includes a mixture of positive and negative. So we can appreciate having a home and still demand our tenants rights. We can appreciate the positive aspects of our lives as they are and still work towards our goals. In fact, when we come from a place of gratitude, this can give us the strength to stand up for ourselves when we really need to.
- Some of us simply don’t like the word ‘gratitude.’ We might associate it with religion or with being told how we should feel (see above). If it is the word that’s the problem, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Just choose another word. Practice appreciation, practice being thankful, or just notice things that you like. Choose that language that fits for you.
- Don’t compare your feelings of gratitude to those of others. We can never really know exactly what other people are feeling. So when other people are describing their experience of gratitude we can wonder if our feelings are big enough or good enough. Whatever our feeling of gratitude is, just let it in.
- Finally please don’t worry that the things you are grateful for are silly. We all find pleasure in different things. Appreciating a new pair of shoes in the sale is just as valid as appreciating a sunset. Gratitude is not a competition. And generally it is the silly little things that make the difference. It doesn’t matter what we are grateful for just practice gratitude!
So to sum up, gratitude is great but don’t let it be another thing to fail at. Have fun with it!
The Happy Squirrel blog features posts about happiness, wellbeing, food and squirrels. You can follow on