Bipolar Depression Has Nothing to Do With Lack of Gratitude

August 23, 2010 Natasha Tracy

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.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2010, August 23). Bipolar Depression Has Nothing to Do With Lack of Gratitude, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

December, 10 2014 at 9:25 am

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.

November, 19 2013 at 4:11 am

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...

Natasha Tracy
September, 9 2010 at 11:04 am

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

September, 8 2010 at 8:05 am

I have same thing regarding any deep interest. I'm curious person, but my curiosity is mundane. People often describe as someone who is aware of more things going on in the world than an average person here does. But the case is: I don't feel enough interest for anything to keep motivated for more than 1-2 time curious trying. People say it's just lack of willpower, and I agree to some extent. But imagine like nothing can seriously get you interested. I believe many people along with willpower have something that keeps them focused , it may be work, love for other ones, family, hobbies, charity work, whatever. No my case. I'm not able to feel the drive for long periods of time. I tried numerous hobbies for instance, and nothing kept me more than a 1-6 months with decreasing effort.
Well, perhaps some romantic relationships interest me and I feel them intensely, dreaming, thinking, analyzing about my relationships but then I burn out quickly. After some time it feels like I'm exhausted from this person, feel bored with him whereas he hasn't even shown me 1/10th of his personality.
I don't know what to do with this. So I'm trying to find sort of meaning to my life, and it seemed like there are many good things to be motivated about, but I don't feel enough motivated for them. People can call it lazy. I hate this word though, it shows average person's aspiration to simplify difficult process. Same as Natasha gave example of others who would say : snap out of it. People tell me: u're smart, you're just lazy. I think they don't understand the issue. And besides, the word lazy doesn't contain any constructive information, doesn't contain any solution. it just labels some feature of a person with a judgemental shade. I remember my mother being frustrated with the fact I never understood it her power word: Because I have/must do it. Like I have to fight my disease because I have to. Never explaining WHAT FOR I have to do it. Thanks after finding out about my bipolar she tries not to press on that much.

Natasha Tracy
August, 31 2010 at 7:50 am

Hi Xavito,
I do really identify with the loss you feel. I've had all those thoughts.
You're welcome. I hope it helps.
- Natasha

August, 30 2010 at 3:30 pm

sometimes I just feel a deep sadness.
I cry for all the lost opportunities, the unseen and not enjoyed life´s beauties, life´s moments. Yes¡ I know life is beautiful, the thing is sometimes I don´t have the tools to enjoy it. I love music, poetry, literature, movies, history, food, sex but sometimes I don´t care nothing. I would like to write but depression takes away my motivation.
Anyway thanks a lot for your posts, the envy that goes with my depression is not enough to prevent me of apreciating and enjoy your witing, the beauty, sadness and tragedy.
Thanks again

August, 28 2010 at 8:15 am

Gratittude has nothing to do with bipolar disorder.

Natasha Tracy
August, 27 2010 at 7:58 am

Hi Rick,
Well, to be fair, religion does help some people. Perhaps not you or I, but for some it does.
Yes, when someone tells me to cheer up I just want to smack them. But to be fair, it really just indicates their ignorance, and ignorance isn't really smacking people over.
Fixing? Oh, yes, that. Maybe that'll be my next article.
- Natasha

August, 27 2010 at 6:33 am

Religion is not an answer, although spirituality could be. I was raised Christian but, as I grew older I realized religion was interfering with my higher power and myself. I learned about spirituality as a child from Cherokee grandmother. I meditate when I seem to be slipping into my bad place (as I call it). Sometime it brings me out, sometime it drags me in deeper, most times it brings me out. People telling me to cheer up, look on the bright side and other cliches' just tick me off. These people aren't in my head and don't know what I go through just to keep some form of what they consider normal.
I had never heard of this Anhedonia before now, I guessing I suffer from it at times but, not always. There are days when nothing feels good or bad for me, I could care less what happened in my life. This has helped me to understand some things. Now, how do I fix them or can I fix them?

Mental Disorders 101
August, 27 2010 at 5:17 am

Bipolar Depression Has Nothing to Do With Lack of Gratitude ......
I found your entry interesting do I've added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)...

August, 25 2010 at 1:26 pm

Nor does love and that's a hard pill to swallow. Often the more you mix in what your brain has to deal with the more complicated things get. Feelings, emotions, relationships, work, kids, traffic.....real life. I'm going to need a bigger pill than my Coors Light. LOL.
Perspective? When you don't even know your have this illness, the views pretty different. Having the perspective be what you thought was "crazy" all your life almost becomes a relief to find out you are BP, OCD, ODD, etc.

Natasha Tracy
August, 25 2010 at 7:53 am

Hi Helena,
You aren't alone. Our perspective can affect our thoughts. And certainly if someone looks at everything in a negative light and refuses to see what does work in their life, however small it may be, that is a problem. One of the reasons therapy helps people is because it can change perspectives.
However, what I'm saying is that gratitude doesn't fix a brain disease nor does it "attract positive vibrations" whatever it is that is supposed to mean.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
August, 25 2010 at 7:46 am

Hi Pam,
You are welcome. I try to put authentic words together.
Yes, I despise people telling me to "find my passion". I think I already have, it involves writing and an unavailable human being. Somehow, I'm not feeling better.
Now, I must admit, I'm not religious and I don't like religion. However, that being said, it does help some people. But it certainly doesn't help everyone.
I had a doctor once who told me that I "just needed a boyfriend". Really? An undergraduate degree and ten years of medical school and all you have for me is get a date? What is this, an episode of Sex and the City?
I'm sorry to say we all go through the motions a lot of the time. Fake it 'til you make it and all that. Sometimes I'm convinced that's a stupid thing to do but more often I'm sure that it isn't. A good answer, I know.
School can actually be a good thing. It does provide structure and socializing and learning. I would consider that a positive step. And maybe you will find something that really engages you there. I'm not saying it's a fix, but I'm saying it could be good.
Good luck.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
August, 25 2010 at 7:32 am

Hi Mark,
Yes, I wouldn't mind some MRIs myself except for, of course, they would kill me (I have a vegus nerve stimulator installed).
Ah, music. I love music. I know that I _cannot_ listen to sad music. Not ever. Not at all. Music has to be happy and upbeat or it makes me feel depressed. Sometimes music can improve a mood slightly, but more often than not it can have an negative effect.
That's just me though. I couldn't find any freely-accessible research on the subject although people are studying music therapy and psychiatric conditions.
- Natasha

Helena Smole
August, 24 2010 at 4:59 am

Well, changing my thinking patterns has helped me. I have schizoaffective disorder - bipolar type. Helena Smole

Pam Moore
August, 24 2010 at 4:00 am

Thank you for putting into words what I could not express. People keep telling me to find my "passion"! I would love to have passion for anything in my life, but there is no joy, no excitement. I am just here. My therapist says to explore spirituality for a purpose, but that frustrates me, too. I am going through the motions...I get up, take a walk (that is a big thing), and do what I am supposed to do next. This next month I am off school and dreading it, no structure to my life, no goals. I am trying hard to think of things to keep from staying in bed all day. It is so good to hear someone else say the things I am feeling but can't put into words!

August, 23 2010 at 7:06 pm

Thanks again. Learning so much from your articles. Would love to be seeing the MRI's of my knoggin when I'm going thru these phases. Any thoughts on why music has such a profound impact? One of the few things I'm becoming more aware snaps me into a better mood and gets me dancing again. And yes I gotta work harder on what goes into the body.

Natasha Tracy
August, 23 2010 at 10:50 am

Hi Buzz,
Thank-you. It's nice to know it resonates for some.
- Natasha

Buzz Morley
August, 23 2010 at 10:47 am

Wow. I love your articles, the way you write, the topics, this one really strikes home. Yes, I will send it to my friends. Thanks Natasha for putting words to something I never could.

Natasha Tracy
August, 23 2010 at 8:12 am

Hi Peter,
Do you find you choose unhealthy food? I find there is a drive to select sugar and fat. Which is funny because it doesn't make me "feel better" but it just doesn't make me feel worse, I suppose. There is evidence to suggest that people in a depression crave carbs (sugar) because of the positive effect they have on the brain. (The brain needs carbs to function properly.)
Are you saying you do go out, visit friends and watch TV, or that you don't? Sorry, I'm just not quite sure which one you're saying there. For me, TV is a much-chosen activity. I suppose because it's just distracting enough but without being emotionally activating.
Thank-you, Peter, for your comment.
- Natasha

Peter Zawistowski
August, 23 2010 at 7:57 am

Anhedonia is probably the most difficult symptom to imagine from someone who has not experienced it directly or indirectly for a long period of time. Some people get mad when I chose anything for food because there is no food that would really please me now. Other choices we maket as well, going out for entertainment, visiting friends or watching something on TV. Never mind what this does to relationship with one's spouse. Appreciate you, Nastaha for putting it in print
-Peter Z

Natasha Tracy
August, 23 2010 at 7:17 am

Hi Shannon,
Yes, I get frustrated with people telling me to "change my thinking". If I could change my thinking I wouldn't have bipolar, now would I?
I do understand why people _thinks_ this works. It works for others. I get that. But those people have unsick brains.
- Natasha

Shannon Marie
August, 23 2010 at 6:47 am

Thank you for stating this idea so eloquently.
The anger I feel over this misconception is so great that I can not see to think clearly on it.
@ the big O and Co.:
The secret is that there is no secret! Just moments of clarity as numerous as the stars....

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