Why We Might Think Twice Before Telling Others To Be Grateful

  In a discussion with my mom a few weeks back, we came upon the topic of telling people to be grateful for what they do have even when they are in a vulnerable state and are struggling, and how detrimental that can be. We were listening to a radio host who was discussing his recent brain surgery and how he had been grappling with the mental health issues accompanying his recovery process as he became fearful of being a patient for the rest of his life. He even noted that the absolute worst thing to tell someone in his position is to just be grateful he made it through the surgery alive. As someone who is well aware of how lucky he is to still be standing after such a serious surgery, he does not need to be reminded to be grateful, because he already is, beyond expression, thankful for his life. And so, being told to “just be grateful,” only serves to delegitimize his current strife. It is for this reason that I am going to refrain from preaching about the importance of gratefulness. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle in one aspect of life or another, maybe even multiple, and the last thing we need in this world is to belittle one another’s personal obstacles by presuming to lecture each other about the things we should feel grateful for. Feeling negative emotions does not make someone ungrateful, and having a life to be grateful for does not negate emotional, mental and physical traumas and struggles. 

We are in the midst of the season of giving and gratefulness. We are supposed to count our blessings and take inventory on all that we have to be thankful for. With that being said, we are also still in the middle of a pandemic. Tensions are high as is depression, anxiety, and a plethora of other issues worsened by COVID-19 and the current state of the world around us. And so, being grateful all of the time is not feasible for everybody. It is extremely important to consider people’s emotional state, especially when it might not be evident, before telling them what they should be grateful for. If someone has to work on a holiday instead of being with their family, they have every right to grieve that, and it does not mean they are not grateful to have a family, so they do not need to be told “At least you have a family. Just be grateful for that!” If someone is struggling with virtual schooling and the weight of the stress of school work in addition to their surroundings, lack of technological resources, or anything that might be making learning nearly impossible right now, it can be harmful to tell them to be glad they are getting an education. I am not a mental health professional in any way, but I am still aware of the negative effects that accompany discrediting the other people’s emotions. In a time as unprecedented as the one we are living through currently, it seems to be most productive and beneficial to validate our own struggles as well as those of the people around us whether that be people we follow or are connected with on social media who choose to cope by airing their grievances online, or close friends and family members who confide in us about what they are going through. It might seem harmless to remind people to be grateful, but it can actually have the opposite effect and further the stigma about mental health and sharing our not-so-pretty feelings. Remember that staying grateful is not entirely possible for everyone, especially now, and that it is ever-important to be supportive and compassionate in response to what everyone is or might be going through rather than, even if it is unintentional, minimizing their experiences.