The Gratitude Trap

Sometimes gratitude can hurt you.

I know, I know… that sounds ridiculous. So let me explain.

Many of us have been told from childhood to be thankful for the things we have in our lives. Things like warm beds, food, and shoes.  

As adults, many of us carry with us the belief that we should be thankful for everything. On the surface this sounds like a good thing. But in typical human form, we tend to mess it up.

Some of us intentionally practice gratitude. We say “Thank You” before meals, and when people do nice things for us, like holding open doors. We might also start or end our days writing lists of everything in our lives we are thankful for.  

These are all wonderful activities because they create genuine, positive emotions within us. Those emotions, and the intentional thoughts about what is great in our lives, really help us to gain perspective when some of the not-so-great things pop up.

But sadly, many of us are using the practice as gratitude in a very negative way that actually makes us feel worse.

Here’s what I mean…

Let’s say you are driving to work on a very hot day and your air conditioner quits in your car. You mutter to yourself, “I hate this car” and feel angry, which would be a pretty typical response from most of us.  

But for some of us, it doesn’t end there. Some of us follow “I hate this car” with  “I should be thankful to have a car”.  It seems sooo innocent… a little gratitude to balance out the negative. But it has the opposite effect because of two little words, “should be“.

See, any time you stick “should” onto a sentence, you are essentially punching yourself in the face. You are judging yourself so harshly that even an attempt at gratitude like “I should be thankful to have a car at all” creates an emotion of shame.

What you don’t see is that you are shaming yourself for saying you hate your car. You are telling yourself you don’t have any right to hate your car because you should just be thankful to have one at all. It’s pretty hard to tap into positive emotions of gratitude when you are beating yourself up.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to fix, but if you’ve been doing it a long time, it will take some practice. You’ve just got to ditch the “should monster”.

Here’s the above example, modified to leave out the should…
“I hate my car” emotion = anger or frustration
“I am thankful to have a car to drive” emotion = gratitude

See how that’s different than “I should be thankful I have a car to drive” which creates an emotion of shame and compounds the negative?

And obviously, this doesn’t apply just to cars.. lol.  

On a recent Facebook Live I talked about this at length, and shared a VetMed related example that may just hit home. To watch the FB Live, CLICK HERE.  

The Key Take Home is this: any time you hear yourself say “should”, recognize that as an indicator that you might be beating yourself up.. and then figure out why. We give the “shoulds” in our lives a lot of undeserved power. Let’s stop doing that.

Give it a try. And if you get stuck in a certain “should” thought loop that you can’t stop, shoot me an email and I’ll try to help you untangle it!

Cari Wise