Gratitude, Silver-Linings & Cynicism

Do you roll your eyes when someone says to be grateful or to practice gratitude?

I know I definitely can. It can feel really patronizing, invalidating, condescending, generic, and so much more. Gratitude practices so often get used in a spiritually bypassing way that a lot of us just view them as fluff, so we don’t give them a second thought. Our cynical mind kicks in. Let’s talk about why.

We’ve all had that experience where we’re talking to a friend or family member about something that is tough, that we’re struggling with, that we’re upset about and they respond with the ‘silver lining’ of the situation. They tell you to look on the bright side, to be grateful that it’s not worse, etc. The toxic positivity rolls in.

You might be left feeling a few different ways:

  • like your feelings, emotions, and/or thoughts are completely invalid
  • shameful for not being grateful
  • like you have to explain your feelings or defend them so they see you are worthy of these feelings of discontentment
  • ultimately, a little unsafe, unseen, unheard, and unsupported

Now, while the intention of the person you’re talking to might be to help you ‘be positive,’ the impact is usually pretty far from that, and really just points to their inability to step into discomfort, to be present, and to let you feel the emotions that you feel. They might be inappropriately taking responsibility for managing your emotions for you; or they might just be trying to get you to stop talking. My point is, it’s not about you. Their response is 100% about them (even though it affects you). So, what do we do with that?

Well…it depends. Perhaps you use that as an opportunity to tell that person how you really feel, “when you ‘silver line’ my negative experience, it makes me feel like my feelings aren’t valid.” Maybe that person will truly be able to hear that, and maybe not.* Perhaps you just learn that this person hasn’t proven themselves to be a safe person to discuss things with, and hopefully, with time, that will change. Talk with the folks who are safe, who will see and hear you. Talk with your therapist. Talk with yourself and find inner validation. Journal. Move your body. Express your feelings, thoughts, and emotions in ways that feel safe for you. And then, find a way to practice gratitude in a way that feels right for you; a way that doesn’t bypass the tough stuff; a way that doesn’t invalidate your experiences.**

For me, a gratitude practice looks like sitting in stillness after doing some movement and breathing, and mentally listing the things I’m grateful for. And y’all, I get really granular with this. I’m thankful to have a roof over my head. I’m grateful to have access to good, quality food. I’m thankful for my health, for my body and all the fun things it lets me do. I’m grateful for my practice, my students, and the opportunity to pursue further education in yoga and ayurveda. But here’s the thing, being grateful for all of these things doesn’t take away the shitty stuff. It doesn’t make my trauma disappear, it doesn’t remove difficult situations, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have hard days. It just helps me see the ‘both and’ of it all. Gratitude and frustration can coexist. Being thankful and processing grief don’t negate each other. Allow the space for all of it.

Have you had experiences of folks ‘silver-lining’ you? Have you been the ‘silver-liner?’

What does a gratitude practice look like for you? How has it affected you?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments 🙂

*A small note. For what it’s worth, I firmly believe that we all need to be responsible for our own education and growth. It should not be anyone’s responsibility to freely educate me and it is not your responsibility to freely educate someone else who constantly invalidates your experiences and emotions

**I don’t think we ever need to feel grateful for traumatic experiences, especially those that involve any form of abuse. We have to be careful to not slip into victim blaming.

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2 Comments

  1. Leah Smith

    I like how you suggested to get granular with the gratitude, that really helps me. Like ok there might be a lot of mess right now, but I am grateful that I can see blue sky. I’m grateful my stove works to make a cup of tea.

    • Amberly Kelley

      Thanks Leah! The little things really add up and can help me to shift perspective a bit too 🙂