“Just be grateful to be alive.” After hearing this message on repeat, I noticed a concerning correlation associated with my mindset and ability to benefit from gratitude practices. I realized that the more I am told to be grateful, the less willing and able to genuinely practice gratitude I become.
Big problem. Gratitude is an essential aspect of resiliency building, stress management, and an overall positive life experience. But, nevertheless, I find myself resisting.
After taking a closer look inside my mind to help understand why my eyes now roll when someone urges me to be grateful, I realized the issue:
Toxic gratitude is inauthentic. Our brains know better. They see right through it.
“I am so grateful my toddler woke me up 25 times last night because it means I have a child, and I get to receive constant reminders of their love for me.”
“I am so grateful for my job. I cry every single day, but oh my gosh, I am so blessed to be employed.”
“I am so grateful I have a Zoom meeting today because I have a huge coffee stain all over my white pants. Also just grateful to have coffee and a washing machine. No reason to be frustrated here!”
Here’s the thing, each of these statements and pain points (mild or significant) can use some reframing. Our beautiful minds can easily fall into a trap of negative focus, and it helps to take a step back.
But, we cannot invalidate our own feelings in this process.
And we can’t be forced to feel gratitude.
A reminder to seek the silver linings in hard situations is different from a forced “. . . but at least you have children” or “. . . you’re lucky to even have this job.”
Toxic gratitude spreads like mold, invading the impact of true gratitude. When we are forced to invalidate our own feelings or psychological experience, our unconscious mind then encourages us to stop attempting to apply or use that particular phrase. This must be toxic positivity’s sibling, fighting for a fair share of attention. Someone may be researching these concepts, and these thoughts about this self-observed phenomenon are simply my own opinions.
Basically, our brains don’t want to keep seeking those thankful thoughts. It didn’t appreciate being ignored.
Gratitude has such incredible mental health benefits. Sometimes, after a sincerely grateful thought, the relief is palpable.
Don’t choose gratitude for anyone but yourself. Don’t choose it for your spouse, your boss, your mother-in-law, or your therapist. Choose it for you.
Start small. We don’t always have to jump straight for “I have clothing, shelter, and food. I have no reason to ever experience suffering.” This may sound like “Wow, getting started at my desk on this Monday is painful. I do feel some joy writing with this pink pen, and I have a coworker to eat lunch with who always makes me smile.”
Try to remember to validate your own feelings.
Gratitude shouldn’t take away your experience. It just helps you work through it.
This may look like “I felt anger when my toddler threw my cell phone in the bath. I can feel some relief knowing I have insurance for this exact reason.”
Gratitude shouldn’t be used as a tool to make you feel insignificant. Your struggle, your pain, your feelings—they are all valid and need to be recognized. Be easy with yourself and try to make an effort toward intentional, genuine grateful thoughts.
Next time the mold of toxic gratitude creeps in, and you can sense your feelings being steamrolled, take a moment of true gratitude—now that you know the difference. Laugh that thought out of your mind, acknowledge your pain point, and find something small you can work with to choose some gratitude that works for you.