Why Practicing Gratitude Never Seems To Make You Feel Better

Gratitude is a feeling that embraces every aspect of us; it's authentic. So why can't you focus on it?

Last updated on Nov 06, 2023

Woman feeling not so grateful but finding the small things that do envoke the feeling Ivan Bertolazzi, Elena Safonova, Dean Drobot, PR Image Factory | Canva

Everywhere you turn, someone's going on about "gratitude". According to these positive-thinking advocates, you can shift your entire energy by focusing on gratitude and refusing to participate in negativity. Gratitude journals, stickers saying "no bad days" and "good vibes only" abound. 

And why not, right? There are so many reasons to feel grateful and joyful reasons big and small. Food is easily accessible, our air is (mostly) clean to breathe and beauty surrounds us when we look for it, etc.


But this focus on gratitude can backfire. In fact, it can grind you down until you no longer trust your own instincts. 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep a gratitude journal or post stickers with positive slogans on your water bottles and laptop — if they make you smile and help you feel authentically positive. 

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Why gratitude practices sometimes backfire

1. You're forcing yourself 

You do everything experts say will lead to happiness — practicing random acts of kindness, listing happy thoughts every morning, writing down what you're thankful for every night, and saying strong positive affirmations about yourself and your life every day. But, you're still not feeling it?

Then, stop! Yes, seriously. Just stop.

2. You cannot fake or force feeling grateful or happy.

Instead of faking it, start where you are. Whatever you're honestly feeling is authentic and worthwhile.

Yes, unhappiness takes a toll on your health, but so does faking your feelings.

In fact, in the extreme, suppressing emotions repeatedly over long periods — rather than acknowledging them — can even result in post-traumatic stress disorder. So, love yourself enough to let your feelings stand as they are. You don't have to wallow in them forever, but faking your way out of difficult emotions never works in the long term.


Now, if you feel miserable and want to feel happier, start by focusing on how you truly feel and examine whether there’s a message or gift in it somehow for you. Is there a kernel of insight, wisdom, or inspiration? Did you learn something valuable from a challenging situation? Where is there a speck of light in your dark feelings? Just start with that.

Why do you feel down in the first place?

Usually, an inability to feel thankful has an origin in disappointment. So, here are a few questions to help you figure out if disappointment is robbing you of a more positive outlook.

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3. Something or someone in your life isn't fulfilling you 

Is there a disconnect somewhere between what matters most to you and the people and activities that fill your life? Where are you feeling disillusioned or let down?


If you're focused on gratitude all the time, it's possible you are pushing away some realities in your life that need to be faced so you can make changes that will help you feel like you're authentically fulfilled and being true to yourself.

If that's the case, trying to be grateful will just wear you down and make you feel like even more of a failure — when you were never a failure to begin with.

Will gratitude work for you?

Can you tackle the situation and change it? If yes, then do so. If not, well then ... how about changing your reaction?

Decide how you want to feel. You can stay disappointed, or you can inch your way to contentment. And eventually to gratitude by choosing to view the situation in a new way. (Remember that "speck of light" I mentioned above?)


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Ask yourself: What can I authentically grateful for right this moment?

Forget platitudes, "gratitude journals," random acts of kindness, or whatever others do to show gratitude.

Maybe your version of gratitude is that you're delighted by the smell of your morning coffee, your friendly corner store, your one friend, the freedom you feel on a morning run, or your dog or cat. Stay with what is true for you and decide what makes you happy and alive. And then notice that thing more often.

That's all. That's it. That's all you have to do to start.


Eventually, you may find yourself feeling grateful for the disappointment you suffered. But, right now, being grateful for your coffee, cat, and a great morning run is plenty.

Because ... it's honest!

Gratitude is a feeling that embraces every aspect of us; it's authentic. Start by being thankful for what you feel now, no matter how you feel or how minor it seems.

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Jan L. Bowen is an author, keynote speaker, thought leader, and facilitator with over 25 years of successful corporate leadership who specializes in helping leaders find their balance.