Monday, February 16, 2015

The Personal and Professional Downside to Gratitude

Gratitude has become a very mainstream trend in the last few years. That's generally a good thing, but I've come to realize that too much gratitude has had a downside in my life, both personally and professionally.  This is a giant and new insight for me, given my upbringing and philosophies of life.

I was born and raised in a family that exuded gratitude. My dear Mom and Dad lost two of their children, very early in life, to tragic accidents, but they remained strong, positive and grateful, and it carried over to their four remaining children, and innumerable grandkids, friends, and neighbors.

Every night, I go to sleep saying my 'gratefuls' not prayers. I spend the moments before drifting off, replaying the day, reviewing all the wonderful and fascinating things that occurred in my life that day. Inevitably, no matter what bad things the day held, there are always a larger number of things for which I can sincerely step back and give thanks. I love this practice and have no plans of changing it.

But...

Now reflecting back, at 55-years into life, I can see a number of situations, both personally and professionally, in which too much gratitude actually played a negative role in my life, not positive.

In abusive, unhealthy relationships, I kept expressing gratitude-- finding all the good things in those relationships-- to the detriment of my self-esteem, life potential, and happiness.  That happened twice, in significant ways.  I was simply grateful that someone loved me, even if that "love" came wrapped in psychological abuse and relationships that were clearly unhealthy. My gratitude kept me engaged in those relationships, much longer than was healthy.

In a number of business negotiations, usually involving employment compensation, sometimes also job titles and new responsibilities, I've been too grateful-- taking a very passive, trusting, selfless, and soft approach to those negotiations, but underplaying my value, skills, and contributions. In these cases, I was a combination of too grateful for the compensation or job offer, and to have any job at all, and also too humble. I failed to recognize and acknowledge the value of my own work.

It took many years for me to become aware of this tendency towards too much gratitude, and it's especially unusual that this awareness should arrive at a time when practicing gratitude is a cultural phenomenon. The popularity of gratitude in today's society is probably one of the reasons that my awareness of its downside became highlighted.

Be grateful, but be careful.  In any situation, personal or professional, if you are endlessly grateful, odds are, you are going to be a lot less likely to say, "I (or we) can do better." Don't let too much gratitude keep you in an unhealthy relationship or keep you from negotiating firmly and truthfully about your own professional value, or from improving a situation to achieve greater potential. And be prepared-- it takes courage to pull back on the reins of gratitude and declare, "Wait a second, I don't have to be grateful about this situation. There's nothing wrong with expecting a little more."

I can't believe I'm going to say this-- don't let gratitude hold you back.

When I Googled, "is it possible to be too grateful" I found a good, 11-minute video from Amie Gordon, a PhD researcher who has given this topic some very formal, academic thought:


1 comment:

blackdog said...

I think you have a really good point there, and I think that's why I struggle with gratitude, because to me, the phrase 'be grateful for what you have' has a subtext 'because you don't deserve any better'. I much prefer to think in terms of appreciation, which to me feels more empowering. You can appreciate something, and you can also appreciate yourself and your achievements - gratitude is all about outside, whereas appreciation can be both inside and out.

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