This is a guest post from Tim Brownson. Don’t stop reading though, because it’s a really good post that I wish I had written my dang self.
It seems that gratitude is the new black when it comes to self development and happiness. Life Coaches, self development bloggers and enthusiastic amateurs on Pinterest can’t wait to tell you to be grateful for what you have. If that is, you want to be happy and content with your life.
And it’s tricky to argue, because gratitude is an incredibly powerful state to be in. After all, you cannot be resentful and grateful, angry and grateful, or jealous and grateful.
The downside for a modern Society is that negative states and emotions are, on the whole, more powerful and far more prevalent than positive ones. In many cases there are good evolutionary reasons for this being the case, but times have changed and our prehistoric brain has yet to catch up.
The upside is that gratitude is one of the very few positive states that can, if used properly, take a sword to the negative ones.
There’s a dark side to the gratitude movement though and one that few people in the industry seem willing or able to recognize, and it’s how gratitude can often give rise to guilt and self recrimination.
All of a sudden people are fearful of admitting they aren’t satisfied with what they have. They feel like there’s something wrong with them if they can’t look on the bright side, put a smile on their face and pretend everything is awesome even when their life isn’t anything like as they want it to be.
I am seeing this again and again with clients who feel like they ought to be grateful for having a job that pays their bills, even if they hate it, dread the thought of getting up every morning and are plotting to drop some acid in their bosses coffee just to inject some excitement into their day.
Or feeling the need to be grateful for having a load of material stuff that in the final analysis they really don’t care about, or being physically healthy when they feel sad, lonely, or even depressed.
For many, they will fake gratitude just so that friends and family cannot use their lack of it as a stick to beat them with. And in other cases they will defend themselves against those that tell them to be grateful whilst deep down feeling those people are right, and that there’s something wrong with them for not feeling grateful.
But it doesn’t work like that, you cannot fake gratitude. If you despise your job, then being grateful isn’t the antidote, getting a new job is. If you don’t love your husband, should you really feel the need to be grateful just because you have one and a friend doesn’t? Of course not.
In fact trying to be grateful in the face of life sucking can exacerbate the situation because it creates cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is that awkward feeling you get when trying to hold two contrary beliefs at once. Even though there are way more than 50 shades of grey your brain prefers not to believe that. It wants binary information because it’s easier to deal with.
It likes black or white, true or false, big or small, right or wrong, fake or real. So when you try and tell it you’re grateful for something you really aren’t it knows and resists fiercely.
Being told that millions of people have it worse than you doesn’t improve your personal situation, any more than seeing somebody who is morbidly obese does when you’re merely obese.
You want to be happy, I want to be happy, we all want to be happy, it’s how we’re wired up. But happiness is a combination of many things as Britt’s book will tell you, including meaning or purpose, good self esteem, belief and yes, gratitude.
If you want to make a pizza and all you have is tomatoes it doesn’t matter how many tomatoes you throw into the oven you’re still only going to get hot tomatoes.
And if you have no meaning, no purpose, a low self esteem and don’t believe in yourself then no amount of gratitude will make you genuinely and lastingly happy.
I am NOT saying don’t be grateful, not at all. In fact do practice gratitude for those things you are genuinely appreciative of such as a a gorgeous day, a roof over your head or the fact that the dog threw up on the tiles and not the carpet. In such circumstance gratitude is awesome and has been proven to help raise happiness levels.
I am however saying don’t beat yourself up for not feeling grateful for something you dislike, anymore than you would for not feeling grateful for not being attacked by a Velociraptor and a Great White Shark today whilst browsing in Anthropologie.
It’s easy for people to tell you to be grateful, but they aren’t living your life and only you truly know what that is like and whether elements deserve your thanks and appreciation, or your determination to change them.
I am grateful you read this post and will be even more grateful if you leave me a comment telling me about something you have felt pressured to feel grateful about, but really don’t.