Recently, I started an iPhone note document titled “The Words,” filled with all the words I hear so often that I hate them. This list includes the usual offenders, words like “mindfulness” and “community,” which have become so overused in the culture that they are almost meaningless. But my least favorite word of the moment, which has become the subject of multiple internal arguments, is “gratitude.”
Like many people, I was once a huge fan of gratitude, and giving thanks has been lauded as an essential part of the power of positive thinking. By simply writing down and reflecting on things you are grateful for daily, therapists, life coaches, and other health and wellness practitioners have spent decades preaching that all we need in life is a little more gratitude and appreciation for what we have. After jumping on the gratitude train, I not only spent years keeping gratitude journals, but back in 2019, I started a practice of writing my gratitude on index cards that I could place in a keepsake container to remind me of everything I should appreciate in life.
Challenging myself never to repeat gratitude, I became even more creative with giving thanks and coming up with new things every day that I could love about life. And while this seems like a great strategy at first, I began to question the practice after sorting through my gratitude jar. Because after years of keeping these little notes, I began to notice a trend. Almost every index card I wrote in the past included things that were no longer statements or experiences that I was grateful for in the present.
Whether giving thanks for the rain one day and the following year brought in a drought or being in love with a new piece of jewelry, only for it to break, it seemed that gratitude was signaling the beginning of grief. And maybe it’s my magical thinking or the fact that I read the Bible too much growing up, but giving voice to what I appreciated had become a surefire formula for ensuring that I would never be able to express my gratitude for those things again. Like the story of Job, rejoicing in what was good about life would bring in an unwarranted testing of my commitment to positivity.