Should I Feel Grateful?
Clients often voice feeling a lot of pressure to feel grateful for their health and well-being. This is true more now than ever due to COVID-19. How can they not feel grateful when so many others are struggling and suffering? They’ve read articles and heard podcasts about how gratitude can help people see beyond current stressors and crises, increase their level of satisfaction with their lives and circumstances, and train their minds to focus on positives. However, the pressure to feel grateful can turn gratitude from a healthy source of coping and relief into a source of guilt and a tendency to minimize or ignore uncomfortable feelings. Thus, forcing gratitude during a crisis does not work.
How can you tell if your gratitude is healthy or guilt based? Think about the tone of your gratitude. Is your tone accusatory? Do you feel as if you have failed when you struggle to find gratitude? Are you using the word “should” to tell you how you to feel? When people try to guilt themselves into a grateful state by comparing their pain to others’ (e.g. “I should feel grateful because others have it so much worse.”) they can unintentionally believe they are not entitled to their thoughts and feelings, which can worsen rather than improve their mental health.
So how can we use gratitude in a healthy way during this period of crisis and in general when things feel overwhelming? Allow yourself to feel your feelings and validate your feelings before working on gratitude. You are allowed to be in pain even when others have it worse. Try to feel and work through your feelings instead of rushing to throw gratitude at them to make them go away and shaming yourself into feeling worse. You can feel both pain and gratitude at the same time, gently allowing gratitude to be a supplement to replace pain over time.
So it is okay if you are feeling overwhelmed and cannot access gratitude. As your crises and stressors subside you can try to access gratitude again in a more healthy way. So in the future, try to focus on using gratitude as a positive and gentle motivator and not in a way to induce shame and more pain.