February 13, 2020

How Telling Someone to be Grateful Stunts their Growth.


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While I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I came across one of “those quotes.”

You know what I mean: the long, inspirational sentence that’s supposed to evoke feelings of connection so the page gets more likes and shares. The random BS that pops up and floods everyone’s timelines.

The sentence was this:

“Happiness isn’t about getting what you want all the time. It’s about loving what you have and being grateful for it.”

Pretty good, right?

Instead of this message making me feel thankful for the things I have and the circumstances life has thrown my way, these words pissed me off.


Because of course I’m thankful for my house, my health, my kid, and so on. But I don’t need to constantly remember to be grateful for my family and for basic human rights.

Granted, the message was probably intended to mean we should be grateful for the things we have because wanting material things can lead to envy, which leads to feelings of discontent and therefore unhappiness—but at that exact moment I didn’t read it that way.

Honestly, I think I was so angry because it has become the norm to tell someone to be thankful for what everyone on the planet should possess. (But that is a whole other topic…)

The problem with telling someone to be thankful for what they have and to not want other things, is that it can diminish the problems and underlying issues many people face. In fact, it downright rejects the idea that we should feel negative emotions about certain situations or not having certain things.

Be thankful—yes, I am thankful for the many wonderful things I have been blessed with. I’m also mad and not thankful for several things.

And what I’ve learned is that these feelings of discontent are often what propel people forward.  

If I were to sit and remind myself to be thankful for everything I am lucky enough to have, I might lose sight of what I want and dismiss all my problems. For example, I am grateful to have a job. But I work in retail.

Trust me, I have war stories…

Every day, I am forced to smile, even when people are rude or disrespectful. I often feel like there’s no other option but to be passive-aggressive, which isn’t exactly a great way to cope. So while I’m grateful to have a job so I can pay for my house (another thing I shouldn’t have to be grateful for because it should be a basic human right) and have a place to live and money to feed myself, I am fully aware that this line of thinking—being grateful for the things I have—can ultimately stunt my progress.

I got so mad reading that quote, because while it is a reminder to be thankful, it also serves as a way to stop any train of thought that says, “I want more than what I have.”

I don’t love my job, and if I were to constantly tell myself to be thankful for my job, I wouldn’t be inspired to find one that suits me better. Because I want better.

And throughout history, it is this want that has moved humans forward.

There are so many examples in history where people could have fallen back on the idea that they should just be thankful for what they had. But if these people never spoke up, rose up, and demanded more than what they were told to be grateful for, our world would be an entirely different place.

Wanting more is not being ungrateful; wanting more is what drives humanity to change.

Of course, everyone needs to remember their blessings. But that doesn’t mean we should diminish the things in our lives that are not okay by telling ourselves that we should be grateful for all that we have. Instead, let’s say to one another:

“Remember to be thankful for what you have been blessed with in life, but know that it’s okay to want more if what you desire may bring more happiness to your life.”



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