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Can Gratitude Negatively Impact Your Mental Health?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC 

There are many benefits of gratitude. In fact, studies indicate that gratitude improves your psychological functioning, physical health, relationships, and career (for more information on this, read my previous blog, What are the Benefits of Gratitude?). Yet, gratitude is not always beneficial.  Gratitude, like most practices, can have a positive or negative impact on your wellbeing. In certain circumstances, gratitude can indeed have a negative impact on your mental health.  

Gratitude can minimize and invalidate your emotional experiences 

“I shouldn’t feel this way. Many people have it much worse than I do.” Does this sound familiar? If you’ve had this thought, heard it, or said it yourself, you may have experienced the negative impact of gratitude. When you compare yourself to the circumstances of others, you risk minimizing and/or invalidating your emotional experiences. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, states that “gratitude shouldn’t be practiced in a way that compares ourselves to others. It’s not about who has it worse or better. It’s about finding what is available to us, here and now, that we can appreciate.” (Bence, 2020). Dr. Nekeshia Hammond goes further by stating, “It’s important when practicing gratitude not to invalidate your feelings of stress. You can have both: a strong sense of gratitude along with feelings of sadness, confusion, or anxiety.” (Bence, 2020). 

In order to avoid minimizing and invalidating your emotional experiences, try these methods when you practice gratitude: 

  • Don’t compare your feelings, thoughts, or situation with others. Instead, focus on your unique experiences when practicing gratitude. For example, instead of saying, “I should be grateful because many people have it worse than I do,” say, “In my life, I’m grateful for ___.” 
  • Experience and validate your emotions before you focus on gratitude. If you focus on your emotions first, you may be less tempted to use gratitude to minimize or invalidate your emotional experiences.   

Gratitude can hinder your emotional processing 

There are times when you need to experience your emotions in order to allow these emotions to change and become a part of your identity and journey. For example, if you experience a loss, it’s important that you grieve in your own way as opposed to avoiding the grieving process, as this could negatively impact your mental health. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, reports that “when we practice gratitude, we shift our attention from what’s wrong or missing to what is here.” It can be tempting to shift our attention away from our emotions that are difficult to experience and instead focus on positive mindfulness. However, this method of coping can have a negative impact. 

In order to avoid hindering your emotional processing, try these methods when you practice gratitude: 

  • Allow yourself to validate and feel all of your emotions (including especially negative or painful ones) in addition to experiencing gratitude. For example, you can actively grieve a loss and also feel grateful for the people and things that you have not lost. 
  • Do not force gratitude when you’re feeling upset as a way to manage your emotions. Instead, allow yourself to experience your emotions while acknowledging that gratitude won’t stop or fix them.   
  • If you struggle to experience your emotions, try focusing on your physical sensations. Notice how your body responds when you think or feel a certain way, and allow your body to experience these sensations. If this feels too overwhelming, try body-calming methods, which will help you process your emotions. 

Practicing gratitude can benefit your mental health in many ways, but it can also negatively impact your mental health in other ways. Be aware of these potentially negative effects when you practice gratitude. 

Bence, S. (2020). Why I Quit My Gratitude Practice to Improve My Mental Health. Healthline. Blog post. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/why-i-quit-my-gratitude-practice-to-improve-my-mental-health

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