so many things to protest, would I really choose gratitude? I suppose the
answer would have to be yes. Actually not only do I get cranky around the
pressure to feel grateful on cue, I actually think it is bad for people. I’m
talking here about forced gratitude, as in the call to singing joyful phrases
while presenting cancer victims and survivors with pink ribbons—as just one
came up for me just yesterday when I was visiting a friend in another state who
had offered me a ticket to a psycho-spiritual conference meant to inspire hope
in oneself and in the world. She had just been ill and was better now and my
coming with her was important. The first sign of being asked to scream thanks
to the universe had me almost on my feet, fleeing the room. But feeling Ellen
would be upset I stayed. Thank the heavens (organic gratitude, I would call
this), she glanced at me and whispered in a knowing way, “I don’t think I can
take much of this either. Let’s escape
for lunch and not come back”: relief for both of us.
brought up for me also a number of people I see in therapy who are chronically
dissatisfied with who they are, with whether they have been married or married
and divorced and remarried yet, with whether they are conforming to the “going
with the flow” which seems to me to be more like following a herd mentality.
The eagerness of a gratitude assumed to be mindful, can sometimes shame the
people who are feeling estranged in some way. That estrangement may come either
through economic or social inequality, or through depression or trauma that
have not gone away despite odes telling them to change their focus and think
only about the good things in their life.
not Thanksgiving yet, but of course. It is pumpkin time and even eggnog time in
some stores. So let’s say it’s pre-Thanksgiving, usually marked by Halloween on
its merry way to pre-Christmas/”holiday” cheerful giving, which is usually over
abundance for some and silent isolation for others who do not have the funds.
One certainly doesn’t hear much of a protest of all the gift giving from those
who don’t talk out loud about not having the money to take part.
to the part about mandatory gratitude perhaps not being good for one’s health
and wellbeing and certainly not for one’s integrity. On the inside at times
there are conflicts and wounds that need to be faced before gratitude can be
real. On the outside there are plenty of social issues that are screaming for
repair and attention as well. Economist and social activist Barbara Ehrenreich
pointed out in her book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining
America (Picador, 2010) how relentless emphasis on making lemonade out of
lemons so to speak can focus our energies away from external problems needing
find that gratitude can be something very rich and vital. It can be deeply
moving to look at the life and health and growth and the discoveries we can get
to experience. In particular I find it can feel touching to experience the
appreciation for the people who know us, who understand us, and who love us
despite our faults.
have mentioned before how crankiness can be a signal that something is off in
our environment, and not always just that something is off inside us. The same
may be true of gratitude. Yes, not having it or enough of it may mean we are
greedy or motivated by incessant needs for power and celebrity—some of which
become obsessions whose emptiness can never be filled. Sometimes, however, it may
mean that something is wrong—something that needs to be understood and mended
of us are deeply sensitive to the ills of the world and take them personally.
For that my answer of sorts is that we come together because caring alone is
often just too lonely. But also one of the answers I have come up with is to
probe the reasons under the given reasons for the greater malaise and the
adversarial atmosphere that plagues our time. It isn’t just understanding
better but understanding how people in power use psychology as a force to
manipulate us into hating each other, into distraction and into resignation.
Being manipulated into thinking that gratitude at any cost and on demand is the
answer to mental and social health may just be part of an effort to keep our
minds detached from coming together to ask how we are kept stuck. It can become
a predictable script that forges a make believe connectedness to a make believe
the way I am grateful for being able to force my way out of my own congestion
to have some thoughts and feelings that seem to matter. I will be ever so much
more grateful if I have some company along the way.
One moment and one holiday at a time.
# Forced Gratitude