By Center for Change Employee

Gratitude is good. It’s wonderful actually. In fact the Center for Change theme right now is an “Attitude of Gratitude.” According to Psychology Today, it can improve physical and psychological health. People who focus on gratitude experience decreased stress among countless other benefits.

I have gratitude for countless things. I really really do. So then why the second someone tells me to write down 3 things I am grateful for, do I turn into a rebellious teenager and start scribbling on the page?  Why does a Gratitude Journal feel like a job to me …especially when I am feeling afraid or sad?  Why does it feels like a judgment to remind me that whatever sadness or fear or anxiety I am feeling, will fade away if only I will stop being so selfish and be thankful for my blessings? Focusing on gratitude can be a positive, helpful exercise no doubt but understand that to some of us…. suggesting it all the time especially when we are struggling, can feel invalidating….and it doesn’t mean we are ungrateful.

Gratitude that wells up organically is beautiful.  Talking a walk and being overcome by the beauty of nature. That’s gratitude. Feeling humbled by someone’s unsolicited gift or help in a time of need. That’s gratitude. When the thing you were afraid of happening, didn’t happen and you sigh in relief. That’s gratitude. When the thing you were afraid of happening, happens AND you get through it. That’s gratitude. When you are compelled to write the letter, send the text, make the call and let someone know what they have meant to you. That’s gratitude. It can be simple. It can be complex. Let me be clear….it’s vital to be able to experience, recognize and express gratitude. Something valuable is missing from your life if you don’t. And if you feel compelled to document your gratitude to be an encouragement in other dark times…..even better. Just know, that some people may not experience or be able to replicate your gratitude practice in the same way.

Sometimes, suggesting gratitude to a person who is struggling can invalidate their pain/feelings.  No matter what is actually said it can sound like, “YOU are so self-absorbed that you can’t see that there are others who suffer way more than you.”  Instead of acknowledging feelings and accepting our emotions, it can serve to push down grief, sadness, anger, etc….and replace it with guilt and shame and the mighty ‘should’. Here is what you ‘should’ feel instead.

Forced Gratitude is when you are expressing pain, fear, anger, confusion and then someone throws gratitude at you. It’s harmful.  It cages feelings and replaces them with redirection. “Here is what you SHOULD be focusing on.” It tells me I’m wrong. It closes me up. I feel ashamed of myself. Of course I am lucky, privileged, and have it better than so many others. My suffering doesn’t compare. It doesn’t always leave room for feeling your feelings AND being grateful and tells you that if you are still depressed or unhappy or anxious that you must not be grateful enough. Refocusing on what you are grateful for in life is wonderful if it’s something that truly is helpful for you in times of worry and stress. But if it makes you feel worse sometimes……you aren’t alone.

It’s important to be careful with gratitude especially during these uncertain times. Be kind to yourself if you struggle to find it. We are experiencing things as a society that we have never experienced before. I think it’s okay to not feel much gratitude right now or maybe not express it in the way someone else wants. Let’s make sure we don’t invalidate each other. I believe that we are all able to hold space for many feelings. If gratitude is in the background right now, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel ashamed of that. If you have found solace and comfort in a path of gratitude, please have compassion for those of us who are taking a longer route. We will get there, but our journey to grateful might not fit into a neat little journal or list. And that’s okay.