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Bipolar Depression Has Nothing to Do With Lack of Gratitude

The movement of gratitude leading to emotional wellness hit its stride when Oprah promoted the gratitude journal. But gratitude has no bearing on depression.

The concept that people need to be grateful for the good things in life has been around probably forever. It’s a form of positivity. Rather than being upset you don’t have the Ferrari the guy next door has, be grateful that you have a Volvo in which to take your kids to school. Seems reasonable enough.

And the movement of gratitude leading to emotional wellness really hit its stride when Oprah started promoting the “gratitude journal”. Basically you write down what you’re grateful for every day and then, “you’ll become a deliberate attractor of positive vibrations”. In Oprah’s case, I’m guessing that’s one really fat journal, and apparently lots of vibrations.

But gratitude has no bearing on how depressed I am.

I’m Grateful

I’m grateful for many things: I live in a beautiful, free part of the world. I have an apartment with wood and tile floors. I have friends with which I enjoy brunch and I have two cats I absolutely adore. All good. And any day you ask me, I can tell you that I appreciate those things and my life wouldn’t be the same without them.

But this doesn’t make me feel any better.

Depression and Anhedonia

One of the things people fundamentally do not understand about bipolar and depression is that many of us suffer from anhedonia – an inability to feel pleasure. An inability to feel pleasure. No matter what I do, no matter how much I may have liked it in the past, no matter how much theoretical pleasure I should be deriving from it; I do not. I do not feel any pleasure at all.

I understand why people don’t get this. They think I’m making it up for some reason. People can’t envision a world in which pleasure cannot be felt. Lucky them.

Turn That Frown Upside Down

Depression isn’t about attitude. It’s about a brain illness.

For Gratitude to Matter, You Have to Be Able to Experience Happiness

While I can say I’m grateful for lovely brunches with my friends, they often make me feel nothing. I mean, I eat, so I feel full after that (assuming I’m not on drugs that make that impossible). I appreciate seeing them so I can spend some time talking to something outside the walls of my apartment. I’m aware that, therapeutically, spending time with others is important. But happiness? No. I don’t really feel that.

So while I’m grateful they’re there, and for the friendship, and for the French toast, it can be pretty hard to motivate myself to actually leave my apartment and to actually do the activity. It’s not that I’m not grateful; it’s just that I don’t feel any happiness around it.

Go Head, Be Grateful

So be grateful. It’s a good thing to be. We all have things in our lives that we appreciate. You can put them on a list if that’s helpful. It even makes some people feel better. But gratitude is not a cure for depression any more than it’s a cure for diabetes.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

23 thoughts on “Bipolar Depression Has Nothing to Do With Lack of Gratitude”

  1. Thank you so much for an insight to how people with bipolar feel. I am currently caring and have co-raised my 4 year old grand daughter since she has been born. My daughter suffers from bipolar and I get totally frustrated by her lack of interest and appreciation for her gorgeous little girl or the help that the family is providing for her. Most days she spends watching a portable DVD player and eating, yes sugary, high carb foods. Thank you for letting me to see that this is all normal and it isn’t just her lack of love for her family.

  2. I can so relate to what your saying… I am not sure I have this perse’ but I do have chronic long term moderate to severe depression. I am treated with three antidepressants that work sometimes, I guess, as the urge to drive off a cliff is more or less – less. But I get the same shtick – be happy! Sure – um, how do you do that? I DO have lots to be grateful for, just seems to be – numb. I have at times had a burst of gratitude, so I guess I can feel it… I have been happy, I think, too. But I saw a video recently on gratitude that really moved me, but I still can’t seem to BE grateful, not really… I just do fake it till I make it kinda thoughts. I still think about the cliff daily…

  3. Hi Lila,

    Honestly, that does sound like ADD more than bipolar. Have you told your doctor this? Are you sure you’re correctly assessed? Lots of mental illnesses can be confused for others so make sure you get an accurate assessment so the treatment will have the best chance of working.

    On motivation: I understand this. If you are depressed, one of the symptoms is a lack of motivation and interest. That’s normal. If you’re depressed that may be part of it.

    But let’s face it, some of us just have more follow-through than others. For myself, I set goals and work towards them whether I want to or not. For example, I want to get a book published, but I have no desire to research agencies, send them query letters, get rejected over and over again and have to wait for a year maybe for anything to happen. When I pick up the book with a list of agents all I want to do is put it down and watch TV. But I don’t. I force myself to do what it takes because in the end, I want the end goal.

    I hate to tell you to “force yourself” but I really think that for many of us we have to. I’m never going to _want_ to do most of the stuff I do, I just force myself.

    The one thing I will say though is that you do have to know who you are and what you want before you can set a goal that matters. Therapy can help you with that. But I do believe you need a goal, and just going to pottery class probably isn’t it.

    – Natasha

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