Gratitude has become very trendy for several years and has started cropping up in almost every corner we look, and more so through the times we live in now - the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve been bombarded with ideas like gratitude prompts, tips for practicing gratitude, reminders to feel for challenges and failures, keeping a gratitude journal - and that’s only a few! However, without caution, Gratitude can become problematic too there have been several instances especially through the pandemic where it has.
We’ve always been told to be grateful, thankful, feel blessed and to count our blessings & unfortunately when we ask for more, very often we are pulled down for that either by others or often our own inner voice which will tell us that we should “just be grateful” when we’re going through something hard (and more often than not, this voice will keep reminding us why we shouldn’t ‘complain’ or want more because there are others out there who have it worse). Gratitude shaming is essentially beating yourself up for feeling sadness, anger, or other negative emotions because you should “be grateful.” The pandemic has seen a great rise in instances of Gratitude shaming and this article will explore more on that front while also explaining why these behaviours are so problematic.
During the pandemic we all heard phrases like:
“My family is healthy and my partner and I still have our jobs. I should feel grateful but I’m not. What’s wrong with me?”
“Things suck, but I have so much to be grateful for.”
“At least your family is alive.”
“At least you’re alive. At least you can breathe.”
“Think about others, at least you have a roof above your head and food.”
“You should be thankful for all that you have - so many people are suffering now.”
This kind of framework has become even more visible through the pandemic than ever before and represents a common misconception: that gratitude should be able to cancel out pain, distress and desires and, in fact, if it doesn’t, that we should feel guilty for our insufficient gratitude and not counting our blessings enough. Comments like this can make people feel confused and guilty about grieving their losses and this may also lead them to go further into their shell as they feel that they cannot share their story, stress and pain with others. This can lead to increased loneliness as we cannot feel close to people if we can’t share our negative emotions with them. Sharing our sorrows, fears, and frustrations with trusted others leads to feelings of connection which can be very beneficial, particularly in the time of the pandemic where we need to remain emotionally connected even when we are socially distanced. The feeling of being heard, understood and cared for can help us to reduce the very negative feelings we were trying to avoid in the first place. Acknowledging and observing our negative emotions actually helps us move through them with a little more ease and grace in the short term and also accept them.
Gratitude is often not enough to make our pain go away, and our culture’s tendency to want to only focus on ways in which we are blessed can sometimes perpetuate the myth that if we are sufficiently grateful, we would not be in distress because there are always people around us who have it worse than us. But this overgeneralization, which essentially amounts to toxic positivity, cancels out the nuance. By saying “just look on the bright side” we, in fact, end up minimizing our pain, shaming ourselves for those painful feelings, try avoiding those emotions and often shoving those feelings to the side where they can fester and come out in other ways which can be unhealthy. When we gratitude shame ourselves, we don’t accept, validate, or normalize our emotions, including the negative ones, which are both warranted and healthy, especially now. This is dangerous given the idea that over time this negation can lead to a development of a patterns where we tell ourselves that our feelings and experiences don’t matter and it is these very internalized narrative which might lead to resentment, guilt, and low self-esteem. We may start to believe that we aren’t allowed to have any emotions, let alone negative ones, and we may even suppress them as result which may lead them to bubble up in unhealthy ways. In these ways, more often than not rather than shifting our focus to those who are suffering, we just end up feeling worse. When we don’t follow this approach for happiness and think that we should not be happy because someone might be happier, why do we so easily jump at thinking that we shouldn’t be sad or want more because someone else has it worse?
In times of distress when we start to remind ourselves that “others have it worse”, not only do we end up dismissing our feelings, but we start to think that pain has a limit. Pain has no limit. everyone’s pain is valid and is pain, irrespective of how good or bad others have it. This absolutely doesn’t have to be an either-or thing. Our feelings can coexist in that that we can be grateful and still recognize other people have it worse without taking away from our own experiences and feelings. For instance, in a Covid-19 situation, we can be grateful for my loved one’ health and acknowledge that while others have lost loved ones to Covid-19, we can still miss seeing our loved ones in person during this time. We can hold space for both gratitude and grief or even gratitude and desire.
One thing we forget in all this is that while we are all in the same storm braving the Covid-19 pandemic, we are not all in the same boat. We are all going through these times differently owing to our own access to resources at the time. If we look at this from the point of view of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, everyone could be at different levels of that pyramid and that is what will determine their realities and what their expectations will be. For someone at the first level of the pyramid, their wants will focus on satisfying those needs before they can move up to the next level on the pyramid. We need to stop shaming people for that. Another thing which we do need to take into account is that we can be grateful for what we have but still have ambitions and desires - and that’s not wrong.
In conclusion it can be said that while Gratitude is a great tool for reminding yourself why it’s good to be alive, but it isn’t going to save our life if we’re in danger. Thinking positively isn’t going to make a bad situation go away and it is always helpful to acknowledge our experiences, feelings and express our needs without being gas lit, shamed or made to feel guilty for it. We are allowed to have desires and ambitions - we are allowed to be happy. Let us make our pain point us in the direction of our healing, and let gratitude and positivity light up our path. That being said, we shouldn’t shame or pull ourselves down if we can’t find the light: sometimes the path just gets too dark. Keep moving forward. The light’s going to shine all the brighter on the other side of the darkness.
Written by: Yash Mehrotra
#MentalHealth #SelfLove #Wellbeing #MindMatters #YouMatter #Wellness #Psychology #ShareYourStory #BeKind #Compassion #Care #Gratitude #GratitudeShaming #ToxicPositivity #Covid19 #Pandemic #Lockdown #Coronavirus