I’ve spoken to a lot of people recently who use gratitude journals and I use a gratitude app on my phone.
I am all for gratitude – but are there times when gratitude is not really gratitude?
A short while ago, I spoke to a client who was using a gratitude diary but rather than feeling happy, connected, or content afterwards, she was left feeling worse.
When we looked closer at how she was using her gratitude journal, she was actually drawing a comparison against people who were ‘worse off’ than her.
For example (mine, not the client’s):
‘I am grateful to have food on my plate because there are people starving in the world’.
This may be true but when we compare what we have against others, we rarely feel good. (Whether we judge ourselves to be better or worse off than the people we are comparing ourselves against)
This seems to me like guilt masquerading as gratitude.
Of course I am not saying we shouldn’t think about these kinds of issues, but in my opinion, a felt sense of gratitude is more likely to be experienced without drawing comparisons.
However, if we were to act in a way to help those in need, for example by donating an item of food to our local food bank, the ability to do this may be something we feel genuinely grateful for.
Contrast this against doing nothing but thinking about people who are going hungry whilst trying to feel grateful for your tea!
Comparisons may not be the only gratitude pitfall
There is also the potential to frame gratitude in a negative way, which may take the edge off the feeling of gratitude.
‘I am grateful the kids didn’t misbehave in the car’
‘I am grateful for a peaceful and enjoyable car journey with the kids’
When we frame our experiences as an absence of something negative it is probably not going to feel as nice as framing our experiences in terms of gaining something positive.
Last of all…
If (like me) you tend to fall into a pattern of starting your gratitude journal entries with the same old ‘I feel grateful for…’, we could be missing out!
Gratitude comes in different flavours and comes along with other positive emotions too. It might be nice to recognise them all!
So maybe the next time you and I write in our journals, we could ask ourselves ‘do I feel ‘grateful’ or do I feel’:
Or something different?
Thank you for reading!
Image credit: Pixabay