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“It could be worse..” and similar phrases are NOT the best way to practice genuine gratitude.
Genuine gratitude isn’t forced, born from a scarcity mentality, or based on comparisons to worst-case scenarios.
You develop genuine gratitude from the inside out. It’s about who you become. And is based on an abundance mindset.
Practicing genuine gratitude can lead to being more optimistic, more present in the moment, and more positive throughout the day.
It increases your overall sense of well-being, happiness, and inner peace.
Whereas forced gratitude can take you down a road of self-criticism and resentment.
The good news is, once you learn to separate yourself from surface-level gratitude, you’ll begin to recognize (and nurture) the things that make you feel genuinely grateful.
In this article, you’ll learn what forced gratitude practices are and why they are damaging. Next you’ll learn what qualifies as a genuine gratitude practice and how they can benefit you. Lastly, you’ll get a few tips to help you start your own genuine gratitude practice.
Let’s get started.
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How NOT to Practice Genuine Gratitude
“It could be worse”, “Things aren’t so bad”, “At least you have a..”.
You know the kinds of phrases I’m talking about. You’ve either heard them or used them before.
Here’s the scenario. You express your feelings about something troubling you.
For example, the way you’re getting treated at your current job. Unappreciated, overworked, abused, etc.
And they reply with…
“It could be worse … you could be unemployed.”
Or let’s say you have a pain in your leg that’s been nagging you for a few weeks. It’s interrupting your quality of life, your job performance, your workouts, the time you spend with your kids, etc.
You mention it to your spouse or a parent, and they say, “Well, at least you have a leg. Some people can’t even walk.”
These are the types of phrases and scenarios I’m talking about.
Some of the other popular phrases are:
- “At least you have food. There are starving people/kids in Africa..”
- “At least you’re not homeless..”
- “At least you have a car..”
- “When I was a kid we didn’t even have..”
- “There are sick/poor kids who would love to have what you have..”
The person using the phrase usually means well. They are trying to cheer you up by helping you see the positive in your situation.
But what they end up doing is usually the opposite.
Genuine Gratitude Versus Forced Gratitude
Although “It could be worse” and similar sayings aim to “cure” ungratefulness, they are scarcity thinking in disguise.
By this I mean, they keep you thinking small, playing small, and defending your problems. Forcing you to be grateful for “good enough” as you continue to settle for what you don’t want in life.
And here’s another problem…
You’re repressing and invalidating the real emotions you are (or someone else is) experiencing in the name of gratitude and positivity.
How is that a good way to practice genuine gratitude?
You’re right. It’s not!
It might serve as an occasional reminder to be more grateful, but at most, it’s a short term fix.
Just think about your own experiences.
Have you ever felt long-term gratitude over situations and circumstances that you didn’t want to be in, to begin with?
- a job you dread going to every morning because of how badly you get treated
- a relationship where you feel unappreciated and fight constantly
- or a car that needs constant repairs, guzzles gas and overheats every time you go through a drive-thru
“Well, at least you have a….”
Maybe you can find a few positives in each scenario to feel genuinely grateful about.
But as a whole, each situation (or circumstance) only provides gratitude in comparison to an even worse option or possibility.
That’s the problem with using scarcity phrases like these. None of them stand on their own or make you happy. So it can’t be called a genuine gratitude practice.
Also, depending on the situation, these phrases are a way of shaming someone as “ungrateful”. As if they should feel grateful for their current pain and suffering, just because, well… it could be worse…
“..gratitude isn’t about comparing ourselves to others in worse situations and being grateful that we aren’t them. Gratitude is truly finding things in life that we are grateful for.”
How to Practice Genuine Gratitude
Hopefully, by now you understand why “it could be worse” is not a good way to practice genuine gratitude.
Of course things could always be worse in some way. But guess what. They could also be a whole lot better!
So while any type of gratitude practice is better than none at all, short-term gratitude only teaches one side of the coin.
The other side is learning to focus on the things in your life you do feel genuinely grateful for.
This has to be practiced for long-term, genuine gratitude to develop.
Long-term gratitude is what leads to positive growth and change. The type of growth that will help you become a happier and more positive version of yourself.
To do this, you need to understand the practices and qualities of genuine gratitude.
Practice Gratitude for the Present Moment
Genuine gratitude means being grateful for the present moment itself. The only requirement is your acceptance of the present moment. No matter what the circumstances.
You don’t have to like what’s happening (or force yourself to), you just have to accept that it is happening.
It isn’t your life situation you’re being grateful for, it’s the fact of your existence itself. And existence only happens in the present moment.
“The present moment is the most valuable thing that can be given to us.”
This type of inner gratitude isn’t dependent on the situations and circumstances happening at the time.
And it isn’t based on a comparison of something that happened in the past or could happen in the future. It’s not about comparison in any way.
In other words, it’s not based on comparing the present moment’s situations to something better or worse (ex. “well at least you’re not starving”).
If you are having trouble shaking off the old mindset, instead of comparing, use the ‘worse’ situation to bring awareness to the fact that you are grateful right now.
And remind yourself that true, genuine gratitude comes from within, and only happens in the present moment.
True Gratitude Comes From an Abundance Mindset
Genuine gratitude grows and deepens alongside your personal growth.
It isn’t a one and done or off and on kind of thing. Genuine gratitude isn’t something you have or don’t have, get born with or not.
It’s an internal state that deepens and expands the more you use it. Which leads to an abundance mindset.
In other words, the more you practice gratitude, the more opportunities to be grateful you’ll have come your way.
On the contrary, the more you practice ignoring and sugarcoating your problems, the more opportunities for “it could be worse” scenarios you’ll get.
“Gratitude also might feel fake because we confuse it with sugarcoating. We assume it means pretending that challenges don’t exist. However, true gratitude, according to therapist Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, is being honest with yourself and taking stock of your circumstances so you can respond healthfully.”
An abundance mindset is a positive state. With positive feelings and positive thoughts.
The way you stay in an abundant state is by being genuinely grateful for what you have and who you are.
In other words, you can’t fake it and hope that your energy field won’t take notice. It doesn’t work that way.
So focus on the things you are genuinely grateful for and be honest about the things you aren’t. You’d be surprised how fast a grateful heart and an abundance mindset can change your life for the better.
Tips for Practicing Genuine Gratitude
Here are a few ways you can start your genuine gratitude practice. I recommend that you only start with one or two.
Try them out for a few weeks and document any changes in your health, mindset, and overall well-being.
After that, you can keep doing the practices that are working for you and add another gratitude method or two to your routine.
Do this until you try them all. I recommend doing it this way so you’ll see which combination of gratitude practices benefit you the most.
■ Practice self-awareness and mindfulness
Both skills will help you develop the ability to watch for scarcity thoughts. And catch yourself before you habitually reframe them into false gratitude.
At the same time, do your best to take notice of what makes you feel genuinely grateful. Mindfulness and self-awareness are key to developing this type of gratitude habit as well.
■ Gratitude journaling
Making a list of the good stuff in your life is a great way to help you move from forced gratitude to genuine gratitude.
Gratitude journaling helped improve my mindset during a difficult period of my life.
“When I started doing it [gratitude journaling] using the Zest app, it was just an experiment. I didn’t do it every night. It was more like every other night or a few times a week. But to my surprise, my overall attitude towards life improved.”
Start by making a list of stuff that made you feel happy, grateful, proud, or accomplished throughout the day. Even if it’s only a couple of things. Don’t force it. It gets easier the more frequently you do it.
■ Practice meditation
The concentration skills you learn while practicing meditation daily will help you focus on the present moment, as well as release the grip of your old mental conditioning.
As your mind centers in the present moment, your thoughts will begin to clear. You’ll develop a better understanding of who you are and what you genuinely care about.
You might even discover your life’s purpose and new passions!
■ Read uplifting gratitude quotes
Uplifting gratitude quotes are one of the most effective ways to practice gratitude daily.
Reading (and pondering) uplifting quotes about gratitude pull your attention back to the present moment, similar to mindfulness practice.
When you stop judging the present moment in negative ways, you’re more likely to grow in appreciation for it. And become more grateful for the moment.
You’ll begin to realize how much better your life is than you originally thought, as your mindset and attitudes change.
“Real gratitude comes from awareness of abundance, appreciation of pleasure, and awe. To feel it, find something that pleases you, like a really good cup of coffee, a favorite work of art, or a pet. For a minute, put all your attention on the sensations you feel when you’re enjoying these things. Let the rest of the world fall away.”
If there’s one thing I hope you’ve taken away from reading this article, it’s that forced gratitude is not a genuine gratitude practice and doesn’t lead to happiness.
Forced gratitude compares worse case scenarios, leaving you vulnerable to emotional repression, resentment, and feeling ungrateful.
While genuine gratitude comes from your heart, teaching you how to appreciate the present moment and all of the things you are truly grateful for.
Now that you understand how to practice genuine gratitude, get ready to enjoy a more positive mindset, a deeper sense of inner peace, and a happier life.
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