Why Gratitude Is Not Always A Good Thing

You Should Be Grateful!

You must be thankful! You should be grateful. You need to be grateful for what you’ve got to get more…and so the list of must-do’s goes on, BUT is it true?

I followed many ‘positive thinking’ teachers for a very long time and also got on the whole bandwagon of ‘creating your reality’ and the ‘law of attraction’ ‘Abraham Hicks’ railroad and I learned many things in that time. You can’t ‘should’ be anything and putting pressure on people to be anything other than they are is not only fruitless but damaging.

As someone who has experienced depression and anxiety a lot in my life, the danger in putting pressure on people to be anything other than they are is that not only do you build up resistance in them, but you are basically telling them to pull themselves together and this is not how healing and growing works.

None of us suddenly became happy or joyful overnight, especially if we have spent a long time shrouded in darkness. We trained in the tough stuff, the challenges, the sadness, the fear, the anger…and un-training takes time and needs to be natural and organically done.

If I were to ‘should’ anything, being grateful should be natural, not forced into a book of ‘what I am grateful for today’ pages. You gaze at a bird in a tree and you feel appreciation; you welcome that wonderful feeling of ‘Wow, that is just beautiful!’. That is natural gratitude.

I remember in my old ‘law of attraction’ days, I would sit in my bed before I went to sleep and each night write a list of what I was grateful for from that day. I read in some article or book that this is what I must be doing if I want more of the ‘good’ stuff in life.

So, I listed, but that was all it was – a list. I could have been writing out my shopping list for the week, so that’s:

  • A smile from a stranger
  • A butterfly landing on a flower
  • Must buy eggs
  • Money in my bank
  • Must buy milk
  • Great friends
  • Don’t forget the potatoes….

And it’s so easy to just make living life such a bore by trying to fake gratitude to make stuff happen. There is no presence in this practice, unless you are literally in the moment feeling it.

Why It Is Perfect to Be Ungrateful?

Because you are. That is all. If you are joyful, that is perfect; if you are sad, that is perfect; if you are ungrateful, that is perfect. You will welcome and appreciate when you are ready to, not a moment sooner.

The more pressure we put on ourselves to be more than we are able to be in the moment, especially if we ever experience depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief, bipolar, chronic fatigue syndrome…the less we are giving ourselves compassion or care.

Self-Care Can Be Honouring Our Experience As It Is

Self-care is not just running baths and receiving massages; self-care is also caring that your experience is happening, acknowledging the truth of how you feel and giving yourself space to simply be, without judgement, criticism or self-flagellation for not being positive or grateful for your lot in life.

Sometimes life sucks and that is okay. We may want better, we may want more money, more friends, better health, to feel we belong…but that comes from understanding that our experience of the world is valid, maybe it’s a little off balance if we are stuck in a negative spiral, but that’s something that will unravel the more we welcome and embrace what arises from within us, naturally.

Children Naturally Appreciate and Naturally Reject

Image by Victoria_Borodinova on Pixabay

Children are full-throttle self-expressing creatures. If they love something in deep appreciation, they share the joy of that moment. If they dislike something and reject something, they certainly let us know. And often what happens is that a parent or care-giver may try and shove gratitude down a child’s throat from very early on.

Telling them they should be thankful for that gift a friend gave them or appreciate all that the parent is doing for them, but why? Why should they, if they don’t?

And we are no different.

As adults we throttle that inner child with ‘shoulds’ and try to fake appreciation and gratitude through this ridiculous practice.

If something isn’t natural and doesn’t evoke true emotion in the moment, it’s fake, not true. A child wouldn’t do this; a child just wouldn’t get this. We all have inner children, so it’s important that we listen to their needs and what needs to change in our inner parenting skills.

Be grateful when you are feeling grateful.

Be ungrateful when you are feeling ungrateful.

And don’t beat yourself up if you are not grateful. It’s okay. Far better to let yourself be human and by doing so, naturally appreciate from that place, instead of forcing or faking your way through life.

What do you think?

I have been pondering this topic a lot over the years and wrote about  practising gratitude when depressed and is it even possible? HERE

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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  1. September 18, 2019 / 2:58 pm

    Thank you for saying this out loud. I struggle with depression and PTSD and there have been many days where I tried to be grateful and the feeling of gratitude simply wasn’t present. What was present were the very real feelings of being inadequate and worthless, and sometimes just plain numb. It is hard to be grateful when you can’t feel anything at all and to write out a list of what you should be grateful for is nothing more than pretending your current space isn’t valid. I really needed to read this post this morning. Thank you for sharing it.

    • September 18, 2019 / 3:26 pm

      Hi Susan, I truly understand where you’re coming from. I liken it to beating up the inner child with a ‘positivity’ stick and that’s not good for anyone. I tried to fight depressive thoughts and anxiety with positive thinking for the longest time. Now, as depression and anxiety lessens, it is because I am accepting instead of fighting. Now, instead of positivity, I simply say to myself ‘Today I feel soooo sad…and that’s okay’ Sending you love and warmth for your own recovery and healing journey.

    • Tom Chapuk
      February 23, 2020 / 11:29 am

      Gratitude is not getting away from who you are, it is acceptance of who you are. There’s nothing inauthentic or manipulative in pointing a depressed person in the direction of realizing that it is actually worthwhile to live. You seem to have your head up your ass on this question.

      • February 23, 2020 / 1:40 pm

        Tom, I don’t know who you are, but if you came at me like this when I was experiencing depression you would be told to go shove your judgements up your own ass. Pointing someone in a direction ‘you’ think they should be looking is pure arrogance. Unless you have spent one second in another persons shoes you are clueless to what they should or shouldn’t be focusing on.

  2. n_m
    November 29, 2019 / 7:58 pm

    Dear Kelly,
    In the light of your article, what would be your take on Ho’oponopono now?
    We use much of the neo-mystical approaches to feel better, are we doing this with Ho’oponopono in your experience? If there is a right and wrong way to use Ho’oponopono, what would those be? Thank you for your thoughts.

    • November 30, 2019 / 11:13 am

      Hi there, I find Hooponopono very useful when life becomes challenging. Not exactly sure what you mean by neo-mystical? Since this post I have opened to deepening my practice. I don’t think there’s a wrong way, because you are conversing with the unconscious mind. So as much as we can say many words, if we can tap into the emotions as we do so we can deepen our loving acceptance and the ability to clear the memories that are creating the pain cycle. So I, for example, may do it for myself if I had pain in my body, I would feel into that pain and say to my inner child, ‘I am sorry that something within me has manifested as this pain, thank you for bringing this to my attention, please forgive me, I love you’ I also can do this for others in my reality too. So…if someone else is in pain, ‘I am sorry you are feeling this pain, thank you for bringing this to my attention, I have felt pain like this before too, please forgive me, I love you’ That way I am taking that pain in as my own, as it is my own.

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