April 8, 2024

When Being Positive & Grateful Doesn’t Work.


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Why can’t I just be grateful? What’s wrong with me?

For an entire year in my mid-30s, I cried on the way to work.

Each morning was an endless battle of feeling powerless while trying to push through all the motions of my everyday life.

I just kept getting up and doing it again. I tried to be grateful and see the positive, after all, life was what I had once dreamed of—a beautiful home life, a supportive husband, a stable job with good company, a healthy child, and so much more than my childhood provided.

Yet, despite trying to see the positive and be grateful, I couldn’t shake off the tears. Trying to feel grateful and positive made me feel even worse—like something must be wrong with me for feeling so unhappy. I shamed myself for not being grateful. I chastised myself thinking it would motivate me to be more positive.

What people think positive psychology is about is seeing all the good while ignoring what is truly going on. While there is wisdom in seeking the silver lining, there’s danger in blindly chasing after positivity, and that’s not exactly what positive psychology is about. Seeing only positive things is a trap of bypassing our true emotions, which need to be felt and acknowledged if we are to learn how to manage them and move through them…or we’re bound to keep repeating them.

Let’s be honest: not every day is sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, we find ourselves drowning in our wounded child energy, overwhelmed by feeling powerlessness and despair. I like to call it my “light a match and watch it burn” energy because I just don’t want to deal with anything, and everything seems challenging and urgent. And in those moments, the last thing I need is to be told to plaster on a smile and count my blessings.

So how do we move forward when positivity and gratitude feel inaccessible or fake?

We move through it instead of bypassing it. 

All feelings are valid. This is something we all have to acknowledge in order to keep emotions from taking over and directing our choices. Feelings don’t actually hurt us. It’s our choices and reactions directed by strong emotions that get us into trouble. It’s not knowing how to properly manage them and be with them that makes them so dang uncomfortable. That discomfort doesn’t mean they are wrong or shouldn’t be felt; they’re giving us information about us.

First, we have to give ourselves permission to sit with our discomfort.

Tending to the tender parts of us can be a challenge when we are used to muting or bypassing them. It takes courage to understand and heal those vulnerable parts of ourselves. When we don’t take the time to listen to that hurting part of us, it often gets louder. Instead, when we tune in and hear and see it, we can move through hard feelings and get the information we need to move forward.

We move through it with curiosity.

Instead of judging our emotions or telling ourselves that there is something wrong with us, we can be curious. We can ask ourselves why these strong feelings are coming up and what the message behind the feeling is. For example, my tears on the way to work were telling me that I was on someone else’s path—that I needed to design my life for myself. I needed to give up people-pleasing and perfectionism of surviving to thrive by stepping into more of my potential—but I never would have found that out if I forced myself to be grateful and positive.

Note: It’s okay to take a time out, to slow down, to tune into our needs, and to give ourselves what we truly require. Maybe it’s a moment of solitude, a comforting meal, or simply a compassionate ear to listen to our innermost thoughts. You only need to give yourself permission.

Giving ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling is a rebellious choice.

Especially if you were told that feelings are unimportant or that being sad or angry wasn’t appropriate. We can take on those messages and make a way of life around ignoring what we feel. Yet, our feelings are the best indicators of what is going on within us.

Being real with our feelings is more important than forcing ourselves to wear a façade of positivity or gratitude. By embracing our emotions, we learn to manage them in a healthy way, preventing them from overwhelming us. We can name our feelings, hold space for them, and offer ourselves the kindness and understanding we deserve. We might even be able to find the life that is calling to us rather than stomping it down to settle for what we have.

Let’s release the pressure to always be positive and grateful.

Instead, let’s embrace authenticity and honor the full spectrum of our human experience. In doing so, we reclaim our power to choose how we navigate through life’s ups and downs, knowing that our feelings are not obstacles to overcome, but rather signposts guiding us toward greater understanding and self-compassion.

How are you feeling right now under the positivity and gratitude? What do your emotions reveal about your inner journey?


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