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Episode 064: The Downside of Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude is an amazing practice that allows us to see the world through a different lens and regain some perspective. Too often I see people take this practice of gratitude and use it as a weapon on themselves.  In this episode, we look at the Downside of Gratitude and the 3 ways you can avoid it.

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 Hi and welcome you are listening to the Happiness Hacks podcast, and I’m your host Nancy Jane Smith. I’m a licensed professional counselor, and in this podcast, I share my stories lessons and hacks I’ve learned, and I continue to learn on my quest to live happier. This is episode 64. The Downside of Gratitude.

I’m excited to be here today talking to you about gratitude. It is one of my favorite topics. I also have to confess; I’m a little nervous to talk about gratitude. It is a passionate topic for a lot of people they love the practice of gratitude. Honestly, I love the practice of gratitude and have used a lot in my life I use it every day or try to say the five things that I am grateful for as I end the day.

I also see it this week as Houston has gotten hammered with the rain and all the tragedy that is happening down there the number of people that have been interviewed that have used gratitude as a way to keep going. To say they’re so thankful to have their family they’re so thankful they have their health they’re so thankful they got out. And so I think gratitude is an extremely powerful practice that we can use to live happier. And I think that for some of us, I was one of these people, gratitude becomes a way that we hammer ourselves. And so I have seen it happen way too often in my office and in talking with friends and family that something comes up that we’re not feeling good about in our lives. Maybe we don’t like our job. We’re unhappy with our spouse. We want our kids to be doing something different and we meet it with “I should be grateful for my health or I should be grateful for my job.” “You know for everything I have I shouldn’t be complaining.” I sometimes think that idea of “I shouldn’t be complaining…I should, I should be grateful” keeps us stuck in these situations that we could change.

So gratitude is great. It works well as I said with the example of Houston that there is a lot that is out of control in the lives of people being struck by that hurricane in Houston and so going to gratitude is an awesome way getting a new perspective.

Calming yourself down getting into the moment and recognizing what’s happening here. That’s why I use gratitude when I go to sleep at night. My brain is firing very quickly, and I have a little insomnia, and I’ll lay there and just slow myself down to think of the things I’m grateful for. Awesome way to use gratitude. The way it keeps us stuck is when we use it as a way to shut down our experience. So I may be saying to my husband “oh you know I’m stressed out because I have this book deadline coming up and but I should be grateful I have the idea to write the book, and I have the opportunity to write the book, and I should be grateful.” Well, that gratitude just comes in and overrides everything I just said.

You know it just pushes it all away. So I see a lot of times with clients who come in, and they want to make some life changes, they want to stop hustling so hard, or they want to switch their jobs around or they want to figure out a new way of communicating with their spouse. And instead of making the changes they’ll just say “I should be grateful I should be grateful I’m even married. I should be grateful that I have a job I should be grateful I have a roof over my head.” OK. But you want to make those changes, and you can make those changes. If you own the fact that you want to do it. So it’s back to my favorite podcast episode which was called Own it because I think that is the key that we have to own our experience.

So I have three tips that I want us to look at when it comes to gratitude and the practice of it switch up how you may be practicing gratitude. Implement these three tips. The first one is to go deep not wide. So when you’re driving home, you’ve had a stressful day, and you think OK I’m going to practice gratitude. It’s not so much “I’m grateful  for my car, I’m grateful for having a house over my head I’m grateful that my husband you know exists.” It’s getting specific. “I’m grateful that it’s a beautiful day. I’m grateful I can feel the air conditioning on my skin. I’m grateful that my husband is cooking dinner tonight.”  You have some depth to what’s happening when we just go wide with “oh I should be grateful.”

It doesn’t have the same impact and the same perception shift as one we can go deep. Because going deep requires us to slow down a little bit and get present and that’s where I think the power of gratitude comes in. When we can slow down and recognize the perception shift that’s where it’s powerful. Just pushing out all the negatives in our life because we should be grateful isn’t making any shifts. But slowing down on the way home from work when we’re stressed out and being like OK what happened today that I’m grateful for. Let’s slow this process weighed down.

One of my favorite examples of this as I was at the grocery store. This was earlier this year, and I was bitter about having to go to the grocery store. You know I had to run in and get Cat Litter, And I hate going to groceries anyway, but I even hate it more when I have like two things I need to get. So I ran in to get the cat litter, and I’m standing in line at the clerk you know waiting. And as I’m looking around I’m like OK what can you be grateful for here. Let’s slow this down. What can you be grateful for and instead of just being like “Oh I should be grateful that you know I can run in and get cat litter or I should be grateful that it’s a beautiful day.” I was like “Oh I am grateful that I can run into this spot and just get Cat Litter or I don’t drive all around the city looking for cat litter like it’s right here. And not only can I get cat litter I can get meat for dinner or I can get fresh vegetables all the same spot” and so I started then expanding, “I’m grateful for all the people that are here that work here. I’m grateful for all the farmers that create all of our food. I’m grateful for the systems that they have in place to make sure that it’s so easy for me to get it.” And so that depth happens instead of just being oh I should be grateful cause now here I could walk into Kroger. I should be grateful that I can just come in here. Well, let’s go a little deeper. So that’s my first tip. Go deep. Not wide.

The second tip you’ve heard before. It’s one of my favorites. It is practice the and. So often we will say “Oh I had a really bad day I don’t really like my job I don’t know if this is the right fit for me, but I should be grateful because I have this job and it’s bringing me money.” Well if you can just throw one ‘and’ in there “you know I don’t know about this job is it making me happy it’s not fulfilling. And we need the money right now, and so I need to figure out a way to do both. How can I switch and keep the same amount of money.” So the and opens your brain up to a little more possibilities. “I don’t like my job, AND I’m grateful that I have the job.”

And then you look at a different way of doing this because this isn’t working. Being stuck at this job. And opens up the possibilities in that one shift of adding AND into my life has just made so much difference to expand. Because I tend to be black and white/ right and wrong by adding in the, AND I can allow myself to be like “I am grateful that I have all these blessings in my life. And today was a rough day.” Both are true. “I am very grateful for all the blessings, I’m very grateful for the privilege that I have in my life, and I need to be aware of what that privilege is so that I can use it for good. Instead of using it for evil. So AND is a powerful, powerful word. I encourage you to start embracing that in your life.

The last tip I have for you is to recognize that it’s OK not to be grateful it’s OK to feel bad. So gratitude rushes in as a way to stop us from feeling those negative yucky emotions that we don’t want to feel. I have this with my dad and the grief that I’m experiencing with his death. It’s been seven months. And I’m like OK I should be past this. I should be moving on, and I’ll say “I’m feeling sad about Dad or I’m missing dad today.” And then in rushes “you should be grateful you know to be grateful you had such a great relationship with your father, and so you shouldn’t be feeling sad.”

Well actually, I might it might be feeling sadder because we did have such a great relationship. And so recognizing that grief is ok, it’s ok to feel that way. I don’t have to push it over with gratitude. And I can throw in the AND there and say, “Gosh today’s a really hard day I’m missing dad, and I’m so grateful we had such a close relationship. I’m grateful that he was my Dad.” So both are true. And that’s the practice of AND and recognizing that it’s OK to feel bad. So the downside of gratitude, in summary, is that we use it to push away all of our feelings. We use it not to honor where we already are, and it keeps us stuck because we don’t make changes because we’re just feeling grateful all the time.

So to recognize when that’s happening to you when you’re not allowing yourself to feel anything because gratitude is rushing in and the three tips I have are to go deep not wide. So really get some depth in there on what you’re feeling grateful for. Practice that lovely word AND so take out the buts out and recognize it’s OK to feel bad.


Weekly Ritual Segment:

One thing that has helped me Live Happier is adding regular ritual practices to my daily life so each week I am going to be sharing a ritual with you and challenge you to complete it.

Start the Day With a Glass of Water

Coffee is my go-to morning drink. On the rare days that I drink a glass of water before my coffee, I feel so much better. This week the challenge is to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.  Bonus points: While you are drinking, take time to tune into your body and set an intention for the day.

Check out my Instagram where I share my daily check in with the weekly ritual practice. It is a helpful way for both of us to stay accountable to the practice.

I’ll be back next week for another Happiness Hacks podcast, and I hope to see you then If you have questions or thoughts or anything, please email me at, or you can follow me on Instagram, @nancyjane_livehappier. Until next time here’s to living happier.

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