We hear a lot about gratitude.
We’re told to be grateful.
Actually, it’s more insistent than that— we’re emphatically told we SHOULD be grateful.
We’re often told that no matter how difficult a situation is or how badly we may be feeling, there is ALWAYS something for which to be grateful…and it’s on us to find it.
It’s often heavily implied that emotional problems such as depression and anxiety can be healed, at least partially, by focusing on gratitude.
This carries with it, of course, the implication that emotional problems such as gratitude and anxiety are at least partially CAUSED by our LACK of gratitude.
Hmm. I don’t know about that one.
We’re going to tell someone who struggles with, say, depression, that what they’re struggling with— at least PART of what they’re struggling with— stems from the fact that they’re not sufficiently focused on the stuff in their life for which they “should” be grateful?
We’re going to tell them that this feeling they have— that they are worthless, that life is pointless, that the future is bleak— is at least partially caused by the fact that they’re just focused on…the wrong stuff?
That they should just make a choice to focus on other stuff, and they’d feel differently?
Meaning it’s…basically their fault. Because they’ve made poor choices about what to focus on, therefore they’re depressed.
You might think I’m exaggerating, maybe setting up a straw man for the purpose of writing a blog post, but I assure you, this really is the attitude out there: depressed people “choose” depression because they’re not sufficiently focused on the good things in life, in this case gratitude.
I’ve known and worked with a lot of depressed people in my career. And anxious people, and addicted people, and people who have experienced trauma.
Not once have I sad across a therapy room from a person and thought, “You know what the problem with this dude is? HE’S NOT GRATEFUL ENOUGH!”
Lack of gratitude focus is not the cause of depression. It is the result of depression.
Lack of gratitude focus is not the cause of anxiety. It is the result of anxiety.
Depression and anxiety hijack our focus. We are not ourselves when we’re depressed and anxious specifically because we are NOT choosing our focus— because our focus has been forcibly rerouted by the processes and chemicals in our brain and body.
We can learn to reclaim our focus from depression and anxiety and addiction and trauma— over time, with practice.
But please, this Thanksgiving, I beg you: don’t share posts that state or imply that depression or anxiety is CAUSED by a lack of gratitude.
People who struggle with depression WISH they could just flip that gratitude switch and feel better— and they’ve been told, again and again, that they “should” be able to do so.
People who struggle with depression and anxiety are even told this by people who say that “gratitude” is how they healed their OWN depression or anxiety— therefore they KNOW for a FACT that gratitude heals emotional problems if only it is tried.
Guys, depression and anxiety are complex.
There is not one “just do this” solution.
“Just be grateful” doesn’t cure psychiatric disorders.
It ay have been helpful for you, and I’m glad.
But please don’t try to cream everyone who is suffering into one mold. You don’t know what’s happening in their nervous system. You don’t know what’s happened in their past. You don’t know what they are or aren’t grateful for.
I can tell you from experience that gratitude and suicidality are quite capable of coexisting.
Focus on gratitude if it is helpful and meaningful to you.
But please remember your experience always has limited relevance to someone else’s.
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