For decades therapists, neuroscientists, executive coaches, motivational speakers, and other well-being professionals have touted the benefits of gratitude. Being thankful can be an emotional and psychological game-changer that is likely to lead to a life of greater fulfillment, both in perception and in achievement.
This theory is both proven scientifically and makes sense logically. Of course in every situation we face we can find a positive aspect. Yes, we strive to be like Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa who embodied deep gratitude in even the most dire of circumstances. Most of us have also experienced the shift that comes with focusing on what you appreciate about someone else and what you are thankful for in your life.
Then why do I feel grouchy and annoyed at all these grateful people in my Facebook feed? Why do I feel worse after writing in my Gratitude Journal? Why do I feel irritated when someone thanks me for something? Am I selfish? Ungrateful? A bad person? This is not who I want to be!
First, as we often suggest, take a Tiara moment and acknowledge yourself for having the self awareness to pause and notice this experience. Self awareness is the access point to growth, development, and consciously being the person you’d like to be in any situation, regardless of the circumstance. Any irritation or frustration is simply data. If we are willing, we can learn quite a bit by paying attention to what we are thinking and feeling.
During this pause, take a breath, relax your shoulders, ground your feet, and ask yourself: What is the source of the irritation? What’s behind the frustration? Can you name the annoyance?
As you talk with yourself, be compassionate, open, and willing to hear anything that comes up. Notice any emotions or patterns. Be curious, and avoid judging yourself, if possible.
As you uncover what’s below the surface you may notice one of these primary reasons gratitude can be annoying.
1. It’s flippant. Because so much attention has been given to being grateful, sometimes people (ourselves included) don’t really mean it. It’s a surface-level conversation. It’s the “right” reaction. It’s what you’re supposed to say, whether or not you truly believe it. When you are just going through the motions, it does not land powerfully for others. If they are going through the motions with you, you can tell.
2. You haven’t processed other feelings. Sometimes when something bad happens, we jump too quickly to being positive. We don’t want to complain, bring others down, or be seen as negative. Yet it’s part of the human system’s stress response to feel many emotions, like shock, fear, despair, anger, frustration, guilt, and more. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel these feelings and fully process a surprising or even traumatic event, the emotions will come out another way. You may get sick, be tired, feel slightly irritated all the time, or have an outburst about something that’s not so important. Yes, at some point you will be able to be grateful for the lessons learned, for the silver lining, for the collateral beauty.
3. You are doing a gratitude practice instead of being grateful. When we are doing a gratitude practice in order to feel better or fix a problem, sometimes it just reminds us of the problem. It’s like continuing to try to frost a terrible tasting, crumbly cake. It’s a disaster. In Tiara terms, it may be that you have made gratitude a “Clever Queen” success strategy instead of a “True Queen” practice. Instead of doing gratitude with an agenda, when you feel inspired to do so, allow yourself to feel deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.
4. You have a fear that being grateful may harm you in some way. This one is tricky, and perhaps you haven’t thought of this before. Sometimes because of past experiences, we associate being grateful either with owing someone something, being disappointed, being vulnerable, or being harmed in some way. If this is the case for you, you may notice yourself putting barriers up to feeling grateful, to protect yourself.
5. You are resentful for not being appreciated. If we are in a phase in our life that we are feeling like we are giving more than receiving, we can get depleted, defensive, and grouchy. We have little resource left for being grateful to others; yet we don’t want to be self-centered or needy.
Once you are aware of what’s below the surface for you, you can shift your irritation to appreciation. Consider the following suggestions and see what feels right to you:
- Allow yourself to feel all your feelings; don’t force gratitude too soon.
- Avoid prescribing what you (or others) should feel grateful for in your life.
- Feel gratitude in your heart and body instead of your head.
- Remind yourself that it is safe to feel appreciative and to receive from others.
- Provide all the acknowledgement you need for yourself.
- Be grateful in your own, unique, authentic way.
When the subconscious barriers to gratitude are resolved, many gratitude practices do really work. Gratitude Journals, Thank You Notes, and Gratitude Lists will pave the way toward a fulfilling life, positive relationships, increased energy, generosity, and kindness.