Gratitude practices like making lists of things we are thankful for can provide a sense of lightness and hope. Taking a moment to pause and reflect on what is going right in our lives rather than focusing on what we are missing can be a beautiful practice...until it isn’t.
Gratitude practices have an undercurrent of shame for those times that we just can’t summon genuine feelings of thanks for what we have.
Years ago, pre-mindfulness, I was in a slump. A pretty nasty one too. I had heard about gratitude practices and I tried them. For a brief time, the novelty of the activity sparked a few extra neurotransmitter doses but eventually I came crashing back down into my depression, except this time I had a crappy list about how great my life was. All it did was make me feel like a spoiled, useless piece of garbage. I mean, there are people without enough food to eat and I couldn’t muster a smile for my safe, privileged existence.
There is a line we walk when we practice gratitude, and it's important that we don't use this practice as a righteous means to stomp out grieving processes or as a way to deny ourselves and others the freedom to feel angry or sad.
Genuine gratitude comes from within. It can never be bullied out of us. Forced gratitude is based in fear and shame, and is often used as a means of control or to feel superior over others and, weirdly, also over ourselves. We think that maybe, if we are grateful enough, we can conquer the dreaded downer within.
And that’s the litmus test for genuine gratitude: if it makes you feel shamed, guilty or scared, it’s probably bullshit and you don’t need to be grateful for it.