When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

Don't let gratitude suffocate other healthy and useful emotionsGratitude has many benefits and can contribute significantly to improved heath, relationships, and outlook.  But gratitude may not always be the most appropriate response.  In fact, a perpetual and exaggerated feeling of thankfulness can be more dangerous than helpful in some situations.

Like other positive emotions, gratitude is also a powerful weapon against negative attitudes like envy, entitlement, and expectation.  And for people who struggle to cope with challenging situations, gratitude is a terrific tool for focusing on the silver lining in the midst of the storm.  However, gratitude can be ineffective and harmful if used excessively or inappropriately, resulting in mixed signals and confusion.  Here are a few examples of when this can happen.

The gesture isn’t really worthy.  If a behavior isn’t significant, doesn’t deliver value, or isn’t highly admired, gratitude may be the wrong response.  For example, a display of gratitude is appropriate toward an employee who goes well beyond the job description to solve a business or customer need.  However, gratitude for an employee who shows up to work on time is not really appropriate because attendance and timely arrival are basic requirements for the job; the employee is expected to behave in this manner and is paid accordingly.   Showing inappropriate gratitude for basic job requirements can confuse an employee about the behavior needed for advancement.

Gratitude becomes a tool for avoiding other healthy emotions.  Having gratitude doesn’t mean we experience life with our heads buried in the sand, oblivious to existing problems.  In fact, gratitude shouldn’t suffocate or smother other emotions that naturally arise during trials and tribulations.  While gratitude can help balance feelings like sorrow, regret, or sadness, it can become dangerous when it interferes with the ability to experience and express a wide
range of emotions, including those emotions needed to recover or heal from deep pain or loss.  Using gratitude to avoid less pleasant emotions can impede longer-term growth and progress.

Gratitude is misplaced for true skill or ability.  It’s natural to want to thank people who have helped us reach a milestone or significant goal.  However, misplaced gratitude can interfere with our ability to recognize and celebrate our own gifts and talents.  While it’s important to thank those who help us reach our dreams, failing to recognize and celebrate our part in the victory may cause us to devalue or diminish our own hard work and contribution.  Dismissing our own skills and abilities can lead to low self-esteem.

Emotions naturally ebb and flow with life events.  As human beings, we feel a myriad of emotions across a wide spectrum.  Sometimes we feel anger, sorrow, and regret.  Other times we feel peace, contentment, and happiness.  Sometimes we feel conflicting emotions at the same time; you’ve heard the term “mixed emotions”.  Experiencing a combination and range of emotions is healthy, and while gratitude can help us cope with difficult situations, it can be a dangerous tool if relied on excessively or inappropriately.

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Favorite Quote

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” John Milton

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For inquiries and questions, please email me or call me at 281-795-8890. LivingWithGratitude.com is owned and operated by Kristen Clark and The Communication Leader located at 1702-B Grant Rd., Suite 411, Cypress, TX 77429; (713) 396-3393.