With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gratitude and how it can be a powerful tool in our daily lives. It can help turn a horrible day around, improve your relationship with others, and change your mood for the better. But earlier today I started pondering the subject and I asked myself, is it possible to have too much gratitude? Don’t get me wrong. Expressing appreciation for things in your life is generally a good thing, but is there a point at which too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing?
For example, I’ve met my fair share of women trapped in toxic relationships and marriages. They complain about things like a lack of quality time, communication, fidelity, and sometimes even equal respect from their partners. As unsatisfied as they are with those very important things, they convince themselves to stay because despite all that, they tell me they’re “grateful” to have a husband who provides. They’re “grateful” he’s reliable, a good father, and respected within the community. They’re “grateful” for all that their husband has done for them in the past. This kind of thinking has always been slightly unsettling to me because in this case, gratitude has blinded them and created an unhealthy sense of indebtedness.
Have you ever had a friend complain to you about a job they hate but are unfortunately stuck in? As miserable as they are, they tell themselves “well, it could be worse. I’m thankful to at least have a job.” Having experience working in retail, I hear this kind of thinking quite a lot. Yes, things could always be worse for you, but is that a reason not to leave a job where you feel unappreciated and underpaid? At what point does positive thinking and excessive gratitude distract you from seeking relief from serious problems?
Thinking happy thoughts might make you feel better for a while, but depending on your situation, it might be more constructive to use your feelings of anger, resentment, and sadness as fuel to help you take the next steps to a better life. Although we all strive for happiness, we still need to accept that all of our feelings are valid. Placing too much of an emphasis on the good feelings underestimates the value of other emotions that could be giving us important signals about how, when, and what we need to change in our lives.
I’ve noticed that people attempt to cancel out negative emotions about one thing, by focusing on positive emotions about another thing. I’m guilty of this myself. There have been times where I’ve been stressed out about something at work and I tell myself that I’m grateful to have a nice boyfriend, hilarious friends, and opportunities that others do not. While all those things may be true and they certainly make me feel better momentarily, it does nothing to address the unhappiness I’m dealing with at work. It shifts my focus for a while, but I’ll still have to deal with the same problems and feelings resurfacing again unless I take actual measures to remedy the situation.
And then there’s the guilt associated with wanting more in life. As long as our desires are healthy and within reason, we shouldn’t be made to feel like awful people for wanting things that make us feel good and alive. Whether it’s a new dress, a better body, or to have new, exciting experiences—they’re totally normal and don’t make you a selfish, ungrateful brat! Life is too short not to live it to the fullest—whatever that may be for you. Wanting to improve your situation can be a good thing that keeps you away from complacency and living in denial.
For the most part, we could all benefit from more gratitude in our lives. The holidays are a perfect opportunity to do so and I’m looking forward to being with friends who bring so much joy to my life. But I’m a realist at heart and I try my best to view the world with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’ve never been a fan of denying the true nature of things by sugarcoating and covering them up with sprinkles and rainbows. Life isn’t all good, but it isn’t all bad either. Sometimes allowing yourself to feel anger, envy, resentment, and sadness is the kick in the butt you need to bring yourself one step closer to genuine happiness and self-improvement. 🙂