Gratitude. We are bombarded from every direction with calls to be grateful for what we have. We are reminded that so many people have so little. Stop me if you’ve heard the one where someone complains about being tired of walking or something, then they’re told at least they have legs. Be grateful. There’s the one where when a child refuses to finish their food, they are reminded of the many children out there dying of hunger. Gratitude is a million-dollar industry with everything from speakers to journals and merch. Let’s talk about the problem with the persistent appeals to always be grateful.
Supports status quo
If every complaint is met by a counter about things you can and should be grateful for, the only thing that guarantees is a continuation of the same. Even if things are going along well, there’s always room for improvement, they can always be better. That means people have to be allowed to be dissatisfied and express it without being labelled ungrateful. Change only comes when people express their individual and communal dissatisfaction with something and fight to change it. If we pressure people to just express gratitude and no express discontentment we stand in the way of progress.
Gratitude practices don’t just prop up the status quo, they also heavily rely on the fact that other people have it worse. They almost need a worse situation to compare to which can rightfully leave you wondering if there is any underlying interest in changing things if you benefit from those negative circumstances.
Human beings are complex
Pressure to be grateful keeps people from expressing their discontent, discontent which may be valid. People are complex, they can be grateful for some things and express their discontentment about others. The pressure to be grateful at all times refuses to acknowledge this, leaving people feeling guilty and ashamed when they have negative thoughts and feelings.
Prioritizes positive thoughts over negative ones
Gratitude as a practice encourages focusing on positive thoughts, what you have rather than what you don’t have. While there’s value in acknowledging the things that are going well in your life, there’s no benefit to going all Pollyanna. Negative thoughts and feelings are not to be ignored; they have something to tell us. Positive thinking and gratitude practices often invalidate negative feelings in favour of focusing on the positives and what’s going right. Overly focusing on the positive, can blind you to the emotions and evidence pointing at trouble. This can keep people in bad circumstances, such as relationships where there are one or two things to be grateful for while overall, there are more negative than positive feelings.
Positive feelings are not more important than negative ones. Being too focused on gratitude is not nearly as beneficial as previous research claimed. New research on the relationship between gratitude practice and mental health found that the impact of gratitude interventions on depression is more limited than past research suggested. Embrace the complexity of the human experience, you can be grateful but still be angry and hurt and fearful. Don’t attach any guilt to it.
There are some benefits to being grateful – Lifestyle: How Gratitude For Your Surroundings Can Improve Your Quality Of Life
Opinion: On Toxic Positivity And Good Vibes Only
Mental Wellness: How Play Can Help Adults Find Joy
Forgiving is Overrated, Hold On To That Grudge