There is a lot of buzz at the moment about gratitude. People try and balance this negative bias out by writing in a gratitude journal, or repeating positive affirmations to themselves regularly. Reminding yourself about the things that you have in your life that bring you joy is a great thing. But is this at the expense of so-called ‘negative’ emotions. These are the ones that cause us pain, sorrow etc. These are valid and we must be careful that we don’t see them as something we need to fix.
I have been known to have a slightly cynical disposition. I say that I call it how it is. Others might say I’m a touch on the negative side. And maybe they are right. Common refrains running through my head are:
‘The kids are really getting on my nerves’
‘Cooking dinner is such a pain in the arse’
‘I can’t believe I haven’t been on a holiday in 5 years’
‘Cleaning is actually the worst thing ever’
There are others, but they usually contain multiple expletives. I know I am not alone. A chat with friends will, most of the time, will have a good portion taken up by bemoaning some parts of our lives. This article in Psychology Today (here) actually talks about our brain’s love of negative bias. Our brain is built to be more sensitive to negative news. We seem to love bad news.
However, I think it should come with a slight warning. Like anything else, simply overriding one thought with another can be a little dangerous. Maybe my kids are getting on my nerves. What is not annoying about cleaning up Weetbix smeared all over the place? If I try and convince myself that everyday is a blessing and that I should be grateful for every moment we have together, I am running in to dangerous territory. Not because every day is not a blessing and I shouldn’t be grateful for every day, it’s just that I am trying to override my valid feelings for a positive one.
Some people, like in this post, (click here) like to express and recognise gratitude outside of the explicit actions of something like a gratitude journal. For some, gratitude journals and the like may be something that forces people to attach to a mindset, rather than just be aware of what is around them.
I think it is better to understand why you have thoughts about things, positive or negative. Negative thoughts are just as valid as positive. Although our minds are set to respond with greater sensitivity to negativity, our society really seems to tell us that we should be feeling amazing and positive and running down the beach with a care-free smile. This kind of conflict can be internalised and can end up quite damaging. We berate ourselves for thoughts that are valid.
It’s all about balance. There is nothing wrong with gratitude practices. I have recently started noting a few things I am grateful for when I am doing something routine, like hanging out the washing. But I try and not override my valid negative experiences. Instead, I mindfully try to create an understanding of them.