There is a huge amount of research out there that proves a regular practice of gratitude is beneficial for your mental health. I’m not going to dispute that, it’s a fact. But what I will point out is that a regular practice of gratitude such as keeping a daily journal can be a negative experience for some, especially those like me who experience anxiety.
I wanted to make practicing gratitude part of my daily life, I purchased a lovely little notebook so I could jot down the things I’m grateful for and I set reminders in my phone to remind me to do it every day. Let me explain what a typical (scheduled) gratitude journaling session looks like for me.
Today I am so grateful for my healthy kids, my happy marriage and I’m grateful for our home near the beach… next thought… something bad is going to happen, this is all too good to be true. My kids could get eaten by a shark or get hit by a car, my husband might get cancer or have a terrible car accident and die! What if I lost my job and I can’t afford the mortgage, we would lose our home. I probably don’t deserve this stuff anyway, my luck is bound to run out soon and so on and so forth…. Now I am rocking in the floor.
You can see why this doesn’t really work for me.
The key for me is genuine gratitude. If I genuinely feel it, in the moment that I am grateful, that’s the good stuff! It’s real and it feels great to acknowledge it, this is when I am truly present and able to experience the pure joy of being alive. When I am grateful, I annoy my kids by taking photos or randomly hugging them or looking at my husband all dopey eyed and he tells me I’m a weirdo. I sing, I dance, I turn my face to the sun and feel the breeze tussle my hair. This is how I acknowledge my gratitude because for me that is a space in time when I am truly grateful and I feel the need to acknowledge it in a way that comes naturally to me.
But when I’m forcing myself to be grateful by dot pointing my privilege because a meme on Instagram told me to or I think I “should” be grateful because there are so many people out there worse off than me, it all goes horribly wrong. You’ve heard of toxic positivity, for me, this is toxic gratitude. It’s not helpful and only makes me feel worse because it either triggers my anxiety or makes me feel guilty for feeling sad or angry or selfish. I’m generally having thoughts like, I should feel good about this, I should be more humble and accepting, at least I’m not blah blah or it could be worse, I should be happy I am so lucky. Now I’m in a shame spiral and having a rubbish time at my pity party.
I’m not saying if you’re feeling a bit shit then you shouldn’t count your blessings, you absolutely should, it’s a great way to pull yourself out of a funk and like I said at the start there is loads of reason why practicing gratitude is wonderful for your mental health.
I’m just saying forced gratitude is very different to genuine gratitude and knowing the difference will make an even greater impact on your mental health.