Balancing Optimism and Realism: The Dangers of Forced Gratitude

by | Nov 25, 2022 | Gratitude, Thankfulness

Forward, Together with western tidewater community services board

Life is tough, and we all find ourselves in the muck of feeling negative from time to time. Finding things to be thankful for can help us snap out of it, at least temporarily. Today, the term grateful is slathered with a hashtag across social media, home décor, clothing, and more. While this can be a good reminder for people to shake off the negative and adopt the positive, telling people to just be grateful can be problematic for mental health.

The Dangers of Forced Gratitude

Forced gratitude is never healthy. It can lead to feelings of guilt, “What is wrong with me? Am I a ‘bad’ person?” It can also evolve into putting enormous pressure on oneself to maintain a sense of gratitude, leading to feelings of frustration and let-down. Forced gratitude is like pulling a cover over negative emotions and problems in life. It can hide the negativity for a while, but it is still there.

Avoidance and escapism are negative outcomes of forced gratitude. It encourages people to pretend that everything is okay, yet, what is happening in a person’s life, and what could be done to change it, lays dormant and hidden. When it emerges, and it will, it often leads to mental health struggles, such as anxiety and depression.

Gratitude is healthy, but forced optimism simply is not.

Realistic optimism is the key that helps people to be engaged in life, to recognize their own worth, while pushing through the challenges and savoring the positives.

The Balance Between Optimistic and Realistic

Optimistic people are better at coping in life. Realistic people are aware that there will always be challenges and difficulties in life. Realistic optimism is not about painting a pretty picture of gratitude that covers up the realities of life. It is also much more than thinking positive thoughts. Realistic optimism is a balanced mindset that cultivates and grows motivation and confidence. It sounds like this, “The world is never going to be easy, but I possess ability. I am not perfect, but I will succeed in making good things happen, even amongst the challenges.”

Finding the balance between optimism and realism, and developing that healthy mindset can take work, but here are some tips that can help you get started:

Awareness of your thoughts and self-talk

By developing an awareness of your thoughts and self-talk you gain the ability to reframe how you perceive situations in your life, how you react, and how you problem-solve. All of which help you develop a mentally healthy focus and to stick with it. Have belief and confidence in yourself. Start by asking yourself powerful questions. Are you thinking too many negative thoughts? Are your thoughts filled with self-defeating statements, such as, I can’t do this, I never have good things, this always happens to me, everything is always terrible in my life.

Related: How incorporating Small Acts of Kindness Into Your Day Can Change Your View on Life

Keep your life and events in perspective. Reframe your thoughts and actions with a positive problem-solving attitude. Ask yourself, what can I change? Remind yourself that you are capable, that positive things do happen in your life, and that not everything is a mess. You can change many things in life. You can change yourself. You can set personal boundaries. You can take action today.

Ask yourself positive questions

Instead of assuming that you cannot change your life, and that bad things are always going to happen to you, ask positive questions about your situation(s) to ensure you are approaching your life realistically and with a mindset that takes responsibility for what you can manage.

Ask yourself questions that promote a blend of optimism and realism (followed by, “I have,” “I will,” and “I can”) statements:

  • What do I need to learn from my situation to ensure it does not happen to me again?
  • What boundaries can I set to protect myself from this situation?
  • What can I change? What can I not change (i.e., other people and situations)? How can I change myself even though I cannot change the situation?

Set positive goals

Learn to look forward to the future, but with realistic positive goals. Focus on continued personal growth and self-improvement. Refuse to play the victim (e.g., refuse to engage in negative self-talk and thoughts), and gain an understanding of the role that you play in your life which affects the results that you get. Write it all down. Journaling can be very therapeutic, as it involves honest self-talk and reflection.

Write down these questions and your answers (meditate on them):

  • What is your challenge or situation?
  • What is the best-case scenario (the best outcome)?
  • What is the worst-case scenario (the worst thing that could happen)?
  • What have I learned from the situation, and how does it help my personal growth?
  • How can I change the results?
  • If I choose to not make a change, how will it impact my life?

Set positive but realistic goals. Do not seek perfection. Remember that the smallest of steps equate to forward motion, but change can take time. Always commend yourself for taking action.

Help is Available

Are you struggling to find a personal balance between being optimistic and realistic? Do you feel that you are stuck in place? Sometimes, the reality is that we need help. Telling ourselves to ‘be more grateful’ is usually not the solution. Our mental health services are for everyone. Our integrated approach to wrap-around care starts with you.

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