Why Gratitude Can Backfire

Without a doubt, there are few emotional states more powerful and creative than that of appreciation and gratitude.  Because of this, we see a lot of philosophies about exercising gratitude.  Celebrating “Thankful Thursday” is a common practice.  The advice, “have an attitude of gratitude” gets doled out as often at popcorn at a movie.

You can understand why. Undoubtedly, you have had moments of complete exhilaration and love where your heart is overflowing with appreciation and gratitude.  Maybe it’s the moment your first baby is placed in your arms, or the moment you witness your child receive the valedictorian award at high school graduation.  Or maybe it’s the moment you open the door to your first house.  We all have these moments and know the exceptionally good feeling of appreciation and gratitude.

So yes, appreciation is important and a powerful state in which to be.  But here’s the catch.  Because appreciation ranks so high on the emotional scale, when you are a long way from there, it’s impossible to jump to it quickly.

Let’s review.  Every single emotion has a vibrational frequency.  The more positive the emotion, the higher the frequency of the vibration.  The vibration of excitement is a lot higher than the vibration of anger or frustration.  When you are in the state of anger, it’s physically impossible to jump to joy quickly.  You can get there, but it can only happen gradually.

If you have ever tried doing a gratitude exercise and felt frustrated that it didn’t make you feel any better, this is probably why. When you are in a high vibration (little resistance) state, gratitude and appreciation are easy to reach.  Moving to these emotions feels great too.  But when you are in a state of overwhelm or fear, and you attempt to feel and express gratitude, it’s likely you will just amplify your feeling of overwhelm or fear.

Why?  Every subject is two subjects:  the presence of what you want and the absence of it.  For example…let’s pick the subject of money.  Let’s assume you are in a state of fear and overwhelm because you have a few dollars left in your bank account, it’s 2 more weeks until pay day and you’ve just received a huge, unexpected bill to repair your car.  You are panicking.  Then you remember that someone told you that appreciation and gratitude are super powerful, creative states.  You decide you are going to do a gratitude exercise.  You begin to list things in your life for which you are grateful.  You write down your kids, spouse, house, car, … then remember the fact that your car is in the repair shop, and that it’s not the car you REALLY want.  In essence, when you picked up the subject of your car or finances, your focus was on the absence of what you want, rather than the presence of it.

What’s happening is that gratitude is too far of a vibrational leap to make, so you can’t reach it instantly.  Instead, you amplify the feelings of overwhelm and fear that were already present.  Not only did the gratitude exercise not help to sooth your resistance, but it amped it up.

That is why gratitude and appreciation doesn’t always work. They are emotional states we should aspire to.  They feel great.  They are powerful creative states.  But get aware of where you are on the emotional scale before you attempt to direct yourself there.  When you are on the lower end and feeling mostly negative states, don’t panic or beat yourself up.  Be kind to yourself and sooth yourself with things that easily make you feel better, even if you have to change the subject altogether.  Often, the easiest path is to drop the subject and put your focus on something that easily feels good, like your dog or cat

When you find yourself in a really good, high vibe-ing state, that’s when to move into gratitude and appreciation.  It’s likely these emotions will amplify the good, high vibe-ing state and you will truly feel the exhilaration of appreciation.