The Gratitude Challenge has been making the rounds on Facebook, and several people have invited me to participate. The object of the game is to list three things you are grateful for every day for a week, then challenge others to do the same.
I hear it can change your life.
But I overthink and overfeel everything, they tell me, and something about the Gratitude Challenge feels wrong every time I try to construct a simple list of the things in my life for which I’m thankful.
Today, I finally figured out why:
1) The subtext of many of the items on my gratitude list is: “Isn’t it lucky I was born to parents who weren’t poor in a stable Western democracy near the end of the twentieth century? Being raised a few miles outside of New York City didn’t hurt, either.”
2) The constant messages about gratitude, particularly directed at women, but not exclusively, contain an implied threat: Don’t complain. Things could worse. How dare you want things? You don’t deserve what you have. Be grateful for that gruel, Oliver Twist! And no, you can’t have some more.
3) I don’t want to express gratitude for something that my friends don’t have. I don’t want anyone to feel hurt or excluded by what I may have that they don’t. Regardless of intention, that can sound like nothing more than boasting. “I am so, so grateful for my five houses, luxury yacht, and round-the-clock domestic staff! I just feel SO lucky, you guys!”
4) Gratitude is both an emotion and a practice. Counting one’s blessings can be great for mental health. Directing attention to what is going right in your life for a moment, instead of what’s going wrong, counters our natural negativity bias. But gratitude is also an emotion, and since it is one of my core principles never to tell anyone else what to feel (since I hate being told what to feel myself), I don’t want to challenge anyone else to feel something. Few people have ever been commanded into feeling something other than what they feel.
Julie Goldberg’s Relationship Status With Gratitude: It’s complicated.