During the holidays, social media takes a break from being a place for ingrates, myself included, to post pictures of their lavish holidays, new cars, and doting lovers and suddenly becomes a network of philanthropists concerned for the welfare of others. Post-Black Friday shopping, when the credit cards are maxed, we return home with an empty wallet and a full heart to share sentiments of gratitude because we understand that we are privileged. Spreading our warmth like an infection, we encourage others going through hard times to also “look on the bright side” or “appreciate what they do have” without the slightest idea of what someone in poverty experiences.
There is no greater indication of thoughtlessness than telling the less fortunate to be grateful while we sit on our thrones of privilege.
The holidays are not all Norman Rockwell paintings and mistletoe. For some, there is a heavy pressure to provide toys and gifts that far exceed financial capabilities. The holidays are a time in which some are placed before a panel of judgmental family members and left to plead their case as to why they aren’t married yet. Worse yet, there are some that no longer have families and are left with heavy hearts and nostalgia rather than Christmas spirit.
Gratitude is a privilege that does not come easy for some and seldom soothes the pain and anxiety that one is experiencing. “Someone has it worse” never cured my depression and “children are starving in Africa” never gave me an appetite. Considering another’s pain will not heal our own. The best gift you can give someone going through a rough time? Let them sit with their struggles without robbing them of their feelings and shoving gratitude down their throats.
Working as a youth therapist, I would often use ignorantly gratitude as a group therapy exercise because I learned in college, while sitting in a classroom of people privileged enough to attend university, that being grateful can counteract depression. As we sat in a circle, each adolescent responded with “family” or “having food,” but there was no sign of gratitude in their demeanor, only sadness. Rather than evoking thankfulness, the exercise had reminded each child in that room of their traumas and their anxiety. Each child was reminded of how they no longer see their family because mother was an intravenous drug user that left them alone for days without food. They were reminded that they have the option of spending each holiday in a group home, where they are seldom regarded, or returning to a home in which they were beaten or molested.
There I stood, never having gone hungry, telling these teenagers to be grateful as if that will somehow counteract the adverse experiences they were subjected to. The only person in the room that felt gratitude was myself.
To feel grateful is a privilege that the less fortunate are sometimes without. If we are without trauma and financial hardship, being thankful is a simple mental shift that prevents us from bitching about trivial matters. In reality, we reek of consumerism but perfume ourselves with gratitude to mask the scent of our inconsistency and our bullshit. To be truly grateful requires more of us than sporadic social media posts between Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few volunteering events to make us feel like we “gave back” without truly inconveniencing ourselves.
In truth, most of us are ingrates for the majority of the year and what we feel during the holidays is not gratitude, but guilt.