I must admit, I would generally consider myself a cup half empty kind of person. I’ve heard that we’re biologically wired that way. That too much gratitude isn’t good for human evolution. Or maybe I’m just using that as an excuse for my Negative Nancy ways. Don’t get me wrong, I can absolutely sit and feel gratitude for the wonderful life I’ve been so blessed with and I am happy and bubbly in my interactions with others. I can acknowledge that a regular practice of gratitude gives me a greater sense of satisfaction in my life and maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but I’ve started to think that this whole gratitude thing has its down sides. Bear with me. Gratitude is not a useless practice by any means, however I think it’s time we looked at the down side of gratitude. Mostly these are not problems with gratitude itself, but with the ways that we may find ourselves approaching it.
Gratitude can kick you when you’re down
Recently, I’ve noticed myself getting a bit judgey when it comes to peoples lack of gratitude. I get all up on my high horse and look down at the people who are complaining about their cushy office job or the fact that their pet died six months ago. I find myself thinking that there is so much suffering in the world, how can they not see that they’re actually really fortunate? Of course it’s another story when I’m having a bad day myself. Being told to be grateful when you’re having a terrible time is about the worst thing that someone can say to you. It blatantly denies and rejects the other persons feelings without acknowledging that even when things look perfect externally, one can still be filled with inner turmoil.
When we’re feeling down, trying to be grateful can be seriously challenging and could catalyze feelings of guilt and shame. We might process our emotions more effectively if we allow ourselves to sit with and acknowledge them and ourselves.
Gratitude is a practice for the fortunate
Those of us harping on about gratitude don’t acknowledge that some people really don’t have much to be grateful for. Living in a slum in India? Dealing with the death of a loved one? It’s all about your attitude! An attitude of gratitude is great if you’re a mentally healthy, middle class white westerner, but what about those people who are really not all that fortunate? By enforcing our values of gratitude onto them, we’re blinding ourselves to the potential of awareness. Sometimes, awareness means getting clear that gratitude might not be available to everyone.
It puts the focus on the individual rather than the collective
In yoga, we talk a lot about the ego. We discuss the importance of one-ness and dissolving this sense of individualism. Gratitude is a very individualistic practice. By practicing gratitude, we’re comparing ourselves with the many people who are not so fortunate, further isolating ourselves and enhancing our uniqueness. This might be okay for someone with a strong meditation practice and understanding of yogic philosophies, but for someone who is new to the practice gratitude could serve to enhance their sense of ego.