When Gratitude Is Dangerous

Thanking people for these behaviors reinforce the perfectionism patterns that put people on the fast track to burnout. Shifting what we express gratitude for is crucial to break the cycle.

Gratitude becomes stagnant 

For years so many of us have been told that gratitude is a beneficial practice for our emotional, mental, spiritual and even physical well-being. And in my own experience, and research, gratitude has been the bridge from anxiety, grief, chronic stress to a more regular peaceful, joy-filled and meaningful, purposeful day to day life. But after a while of writing our gratitude down in our journals, making a mental note of what we are grateful for, it becomes stagnant. The beginner’s practice plateaus and the impact of the gratitude we feel is stunted. So I started asking “what if we activated our gratitude beyond the pages of our notebooks or our running mental list and passed it onto the thousands of people over our lifetime who have contributed in big and small ways to our growth, perspective, comfort and authenticity?”


And the first experiment I did showed OVER and OVER the massive impact of gratitude in action. I wrote thank you notes to people for being an integral part in my childhood, my early adult years and in my current life at the many doctor’s offices I was visiting at the time.I gained so much perspective lying in bed with only my thoughts to keep me occupied. I faced with the uncertainty of how much life I had left to live, it felt urgent to share these sentiments with people because what if I died and they never knew? 

What happened next was unbelievably powerful

Every time I activated my gratitude, I chose to stop hoarding it and instead set it free into the world, it exponentially multiplied. The impact went beyond myself and the person I said thanks to. People were carrying that received appreciation into every aspect of their life for that day and beyond. We don’t forget about an intentionally expressed gratitude. You can think of a time right now when you were thanked, seemingly randomly, by someone you. You remember it because that energy is still with you.

Procrastinating on sending thank you’s can be because you don’t know how to say it the exactly right way, you don’t know what card or paper would be appropriate, you worry it will come off as cheesy or inauthentic, all the anxiety of not getting it just right because after-all, it’s a big deal that they showed up the way they did in your life. What we know is that thanks expressed on any level is powerful and it does not decrease in value if you send it in a free text message or video message, nor does it lose it’s power when you send a $.50 blank greeting card that you write in.

Gratitude expressed is always better than gratitude hoarded.

It’s important to recognize that what we thank people for, they are more likely to repeat. Gratitude expressed is an affirmation to another person that who they are and what they did is so powerful it’s worth repeating. The compliments we receive reinforce the behaviors we choose. We must be conscious of what we say thank you for. Be aware that when we acknowledge someone we are basically saying “do more of that”.

But what if we thanked each other for being fully human, for taking up the space they inhabit in this world, for putting boundaries in place, for investing in themselves, for prioritizing their health, for taking messy action, for showing up in their life more often, with fewer apologies. What if we commit to being intentional about who and what we thank each other for so we aren’t reinforcing the rules of perfectionism.


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