Gratitude Lists are B.S. — Ingratitude Lists Saved me


In this piece for Good Housekeeping, one woman shares how “thinking positive” and making gratitude lists worsened her depression, and how acknowledging her pain and trauma through ingratitude lists helped her feel validated and empowered.

“Gratitude lists didn’t help me one bit. Writing them was a practice that drove me deeper into shame and self-loathing when I was already in a very dark place. Gratitude lists imply that those of us who are in pain are choosing misery and just aren’t working hard enough and that if we just think happy thoughts we’ll float up above our problems like the kids in Peter Pan.

My ingratitude lists helped me grieve the things that I’d lost, missed out on, been cheated out of and all the times life had kicked me straight in the heart. I learned that stuffing down anger and sadness with a stack of gratitude lists doesn’t make them go away. Writing down the things that made me miserable and furious didn’t make them go away either, but it helped me focus on the things in life that I wanted to change because they caused me suffering over and over again. My ingratitude lists gave me direction, focus and helped me move away from shame and toward acceptance and action. My heart still hurts, but I don’t scream at myself for being selfish for being sad anymore.”


  1. Good article. So much of the positive thinking garbage for me, I think, is inherent in my Christian upbringing. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one…” was going thru my head as I read this. There’s a place for that, but there’s also a place for being honest when life sucks and my heart hurts because of so many things…

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  2. This is good to see. I haven’t read it, but think Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Brightsided” is probably very good on this also–she is always smart and insightful.

    But this also makes me think we should be cautious about a simplistic view of this as though either gratitude ingratitude (really, I think it’s more grieving here no?) is the “right” thing. Isn’t it more a sort of dance? Letting in the things that have been harmful, being honest about how they are and how they feel, and yes, getting in touch with the anger and grief without any happiness bullshit. But then also finding gratitude for what is left, whether it’s little things we take for granted or the great blessings we are able to find. Doesn’t it take both? To avoid the temptation of being angry and bitter and also of being a smiley-faced Pollyanna? And of course we may need to have phases dominated by one or the other.

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    • What’s annoying about the ‘think positive’ thing is this: it DENIES the room for discussion about what’s going on with a person. It cuts off communication. The message really is, “SHUT UP ABOUT IT ALREADY”.

      Fuck that.

      Bright Sided is very good, and gets to the political roots of when and where all this ‘think positive’ stuff seeped into the culture.

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