April 1, 2015

Gratitude is a Commodity, and I'm Not Sold

Gratitude. Do you remember what it used to mean?

It was that feeling you had when you were nearly hit by a car as you crossed the road but it missed by that much (also linked very closely to 'relief').

It was what you didn't actually experience when your grandmother gave you a birthday present that was way too young for you and you were really disappointed (see 'ungrateful brat').

It was the emotion that rushed through you when your boyfriend arrived at the door and looked really cute and you felt hugely lucky to have him (also known as 'I can't believe he's mine!').

It wasn't a movement. It was a sensation. It was something that came from the heart, or didn't.

But gratitude has been packaged and commodified in our social media age. It is something that you 'practice', not feel, as part of a Way of Being.

It is something to be cultivated and shared, and expressed in public forums.

What are you grateful for today? people ask.

Today I am grateful for my cat, my hot coffee, this new assignment, they respond.

Gratitude is memes and blog posts and apps and Instagram pics. It is a way to live, to overcome depression, to ease anxiety, to enhance positivity. It is a panacea for all sorts of mental and emotional distress.

And yet... I'm not sold. I feel grateful when I'm grateful, which, admittedly, is a lot. I live a fortunate life. I have much to be thankful for. But when I'm anxious or distressed or in pain or sad, forcing gratitude for what is good can't fix my woes. Gratitude for my children or cat won't palliate my grief for my sister. Gratitude for my friends or parents can't heal a broken heart. Gratitude for having had two books published can't ease the anxiety over the third.

But many people I know practice gratitude, including someone unexpected. We discuss it below. And I would love to know your thoughts. Are you a 'grateful' person? What are you grateful for? Has it changed your life? Am I missing something?


  1. The Vinyl EditionApril 1, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    I'm very grateful to have read this. Some would doubt the sincerity of my gratitude because I'm not sharing it on facebook, or updating my FB status for one hour to celebrate of my gratitude.
    Also, spot on about gratitude for some people/things not compensating for loss/grief/mourning of other people/things.
    Deep down I am grateful for good things I have, mainly my family, but I really would also be grateful if all the bad crap wasn't constantly dogging my days.

  2. Lana (Sharpest Pencil)April 1, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    I am grateful that you wrote this post, and to some degree I agree with you. Gratefulness should not be considered as a commodity or a fad - which is why I am almost secretive about my gratitude - you didn't even know I did it, not that I am ashamed of it but rather that I regard it as a personal thing I do myself that I don't share with others.


  3. I agree Kerri. I've tried on and off to keep a gratitude journal but it feels forced and contrived. Plus I'm extremely grateful for my family but at the same time I'm also grateful when they're out so I can have time alone. Nobody ever admits things like that when they post their gratitude update on social media.

  4. I totally get that whole thing that "gratitude is the attitude" and that practising it can take you from suicidal despair to ground that has a bit more level in it.

    But like all positive things in this terribly desperate age where there is a hell of a lot of denial running through everything, it can be tempting to take it and run with it into delusion. if you're stressed, hanging on with your fingernails in some fashion, the desire to live in a space where everything is lovely and fluffy and look how the light glints off it all is entirely overwhelming at times. I get that. Stress makes you desperate to be in a space where you can rest and repair. Unfortunately it doesn't really help you accept where things actually are in order to move forward in a realistic way with them.

    I s'pose the internet's good for taking shit and running with it until it's kinda defeated its own purpose. But reining it in and bringing it back from a lovely badge to wear in order to get likes online, gratitude has certainly saved some of my days' arses, I gotta say. It's a lovely feeling to feel like you're drowning a little in all the stuff, and then to stop, and breathe, and rethink, and take stock, and feel the silence for .5 seconds, and think about all that you have to be thankful for. That is a beautiful thang.

  5. How entirely depressing that they don't. As if it's an awful, horrible thing to want time to yourself. Sheesh, where do we get these bullshit ideas from? :)

  6. Yes. Maybe private gratitude feels more authentic. But either way, you've given me a lot to think about. As always x

  7. Yes, I can understand how it can help in that context. Thanks for explaining x

  8. Oh I love time alone. Thrive on it!!!! I hear you!!!

  9. Yes! Exactly. The two are very separate issues. Xx

  10. Gratitude junkie here and grateful for that ;)

  11. I'm all for gratitude and practicing it as a way to keep perspective - especially when I feel like my anxiety is spinning out of control. I sometimes share it (did today - was it me on Twitter? That's awkward haha) but I always believe it should be authentic and from the heart and something you express - whether privately or publicly - in that REAL moment and not forced. It's not the same if it's manufactured or used as a device to show off.
    In saying that, sometimes life is just shit and trying to clutch at straws when you're not feeling it sucks and never works! x

  12. I'll express gratitude when people can differentiate "practice", the noun, and "practise", the verb

  13. And it seems to work for you because you glow x

  14. You are so right. Sonetimes even is writers make hasty typos. Thanks for the heads up.

  15. I think you need to practise (practice??) gratitude less or more given where you are at emotionally.
    For example: I had a dark year last year (very long story, depression, blahblahblah) and doing the 100 days of gratitude challenge made a massive difference. It forced me to get out of my hole and find something to be grateful for, even on the hardest days, even if just the smallest thing. It was a mind-shift I needed to make and I'm 'wait for it' eternally grateful for it.

  16. *sigh*

    I wish I was as perfect as you.

  17. Nup. I'm as anti-gratitude as I am anti-happiness. Can't feel on demand. Very different from compassion, which I think I have a lot of.

  18. Kerri & Lana, I started a gratitude journal many years ago, but I gave it away almost as soon as I started it. Now I just have grateful moments, but I don't write them down or share them.

  19. I love this post. A few months back I wrote about how I was sick of being made to feel guilty for not feeling grateful every second of every day! Every day I have ''wow' I'm so lucky moments but I don't feel the need to spout it to every Tom, Dick and Harriet!

  20. I try to stop every now and then and take pleasure in the little nice things in life. I don't like being coerced, though, and some of this gratitude stuff almost feels like bullying. "Why aren't you grateful???". A bit like those facebook posts that try to get you to click 'like' - or else you supposedly don't love your mother!


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