Too much gratitude?

The benefits of gratitude are well understood. Studies show, for example, that approaching life from a grateful stance yields a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. Plus, people who report more gratitude also report greater feelings of joy, aliveness, and optimism. Those who tend toward gratitude experience less loneliness and isolation and greater compassion.

So why hold back on giving thanks?

At its heart, gratitude helps us maintain perspective. We see the larger picture. We avoid getting fixated on small annoyances. Saying “thank you” reinforces our sense of interconnectedness. It helps us recognize that we are not alone with our problems.

But forced or misplaced gratitude can undermine our overall well-being. For instance:

  • Stretching to feel grateful about a person who is taking advantage. Dysfunctional relationships abound in family caregiving. There’s crankiness in the person you care for. Or siblings who don’t share the load. Don’t force yourself to “find some gratitude” when your true feelings are otherwise. In some situations, it is important to set limits and say “no.” Listen to your gut. Are you just making excuses for another’s disrespect? Gratitude can help you get by in the short term. And may be appropriate even for small things. But don’t let it mask a larger problem that needs addressing.
  • Mistaking gratitude for indebtedness. We all keep something of a scorecard to assess the give and take in relationships. The closer to center one is in the rings of intimacy, the less appropriate “keeping score” may be. (Think of a business relationship vs. a spousal relationship.) Within families, if someone does you a good turn, it’s appropriate to show genuine appreciation. It is equally appropriate to acknowledge to yourself that you are deserving of help. Dashing to “repay” them—or their behaving as if you should—can inadvertently devalue your contributions.