Gratitude journals are very popular at the moment, with just cause
Many of us are more blessed that our grandparents could have ever imagined, but get wrapped up in insignificant trivia that frankly doesn't matter. It's good to be reminded of lifes simple pleasures and of what's really important.
However there's a dark side to gratitude that is often missed, and can cause you damage.
Let me explain...
You see, I'm a counsellor/psychotherapist and I see this issue from a slightly different perspective than many.
I have clients that say this to me all the time:
'I feel so pathetic - lots of people have it worse than me and they manage, so why can't I cope?'
Then they tell me their story, and about how they have struggled in life but kept going while feeling worse and worse, thinking their problems are somehow insignificant, trivial or stupid and that unless they suffered with X or Y then they are making a big fuss over nothing and really should just pull themselves together and be strong because there are people out there that are worse off....
Maybe you've heard it too. Or maybe you're the one saying it?
The thing is, there will always be people that have it worse than you. Whatever your situation, whether emotional, physical or financial.
If you have an ingrowing toenail. someone else has lost a leg. If you lost a leg, there's someone that's lost both etc.
But does knowing that make the pain of the ingrowing toenail any less? No, it doesn't.
You still have a painful foot, but now feel guilty as well.
What happens when you discount problems this way?
- You struggle on for far longer than is nescessary
- You don't ask for help, believing you should be able to cope alone
- You learn to ignore your own feelings
- You learn to hide your difficulties, making it harder for people to help
- You feel guilty for even thinking of yourself
- The problem get's worse...and worse.
what are the benefits of thinking 'There are people worse off than me'?
- It doesn't help them
- It doesn't help you
Nope, I couldn't think of a single thing! It seems to be a total lose/lose situation.
Where does this thinking come from?
Often it comes from a good place. When you're upset the people saying 'there are people worse off' genuinely think it will help you to put your problems into perspective and move on.
However, they don't understand the potential damage they could be doing. If it's said when you're really struggling, the impact is you think your problems are trivial and you're making a fuss over nothing, and you should just keep quiet or people will think you're weak, silly, or a drama queen.
We have feelings, and not all of them are pleasant. Anger, sadness, fear - they serve a purpose: They give you important information about what's going on for you. By denying the difficult feelings, you leave yourself vulnerable.
Anger, sadness, fear - they serve a purpose. Denying them leaves you vulnerable
Now, I want you to consider this:
Just how bad does it have to get before you consider it okay to get help?
My dad, bless him, had a bumpy lump thingy on his forehead. Not worth bothering the doctor with, he said, he's too busy for something so trivial. Go, I insisted, it should be checked out. Yup, it was skin cancer. It was treated, and has gone. If he hadn't gone - well, who knows.
There's a time and a place for gratitude.
Gratitude journals are great at reminding us just how many good things there are in our lives, and to notice and appreciate them.
For example, I find enormous delight in seeing the first snowdrop of spring. Also, I live close to a primary school and feel great joy hearing the kids play at playtime.
An awareness and appreciation of the small, daily good stuff can help us to feel grounded, realise what's important and help us not stress the small stuff, like those times we get upset over the insignificant (oh no, disaster! My cable TV is broken and I cant watch my fave show!!!).
In these situations, self reflection via journaling can help you to keep things in perspective..
So have an awareness of the fabulous things in life - the wonder as you look up to the stars, the power of the sea crashing on rocks, the delight at the beauty of a flower, the awe of a spiders web and the exquisite taste of chocolate.
But don’t let the current fashion for gratitude and positive thinking stop you taking your problems seriously, or let ‘There are people worse off than you’ prevent you from getting the help you need.
If you'd like some extra information about starting a journal, this guide that takes you step by step through the whole process.
The guide is available on a Pay What You Want basis, meaning there is no set price, you pay what you feel it's value is to you.