Gratitude = the New Guilt… But You Don’t Have to Buy It.

by Mary Beth Huwe

It’s November… and you know the Script, right? It’s all about the gratitude.

It’s the time of year I am supposed to effuse about the WONDERFUL things in my life, and how #grateful and #blessed I am. (With a parenthetical, often unvoiced hope that this process will attract more wonderful things into my life, and shove the crappy stuff out of the picture.)

To not talk (and post) about gratitude would be, you know, ungrateful.

It would be negative.

And privileged.

And generally obnoxious.

As an acupuncturist and a writer, my assumed part in this narrative is to describe what’s naturally happening in the fall, and how we can experience and cultivate gratitude. To wax philosophical about acknowledging what’s precious and valuable to us, and letting go of what serves us no longer.

In deference to the Script, I’ll suggest that we let go of the Script. I don’t think it’s serving us.

The Pressure of the “Attitude of Gratitude.”

Here’s what I’m noticing, both in the clinic and in the world: somehow gratitude has become the new guilt.

huwe acupuncture gratitude-the-new-guilt

#Gratitude has acquired a hashtag. People are worrying if they’re #gratituding enough, if they’re doing it right.

When something crappy happens, they wonder if they’ve attracted it through a lack of gratitude. With their karma. Maybe because they don’t hold a state of mental purity, of eternal gratitude. And what about their chakras? Probably they’re filthy. Or is that the aura? Crap.

#Gratitude has become a weapon to beat ourselves up with – to prod us to some sort of finish line of personal growth. It covers up a few nagging fears.

While it may not be conscious, I think the train of thought driving this Gratitude Self-Abuse is that we believe we don’t deserve our own happiness. We believe we don’t deserve our #blessings. We must prove – to ourselves and to each other – that through our unyielding, relentless application of gratitude, we have earned the beauty of life.

Most major religions would object to that part that says we must earn the beauty of life.

Earning the beauty of life isn’t our job; honoring it is.
But #Gratituding has an agenda:

  1. Make the Crappy Stuff Go Away.
  2. Earn the Beautiful Stuff.

It is denial. It’s denial hyped up on an energy drink after 5 hours of sleep for a week straight. It’s intense, in other words. It’s trying to force a feeling of gratitude where there isn’t one. It fails to honor. It fails to pause and notice.

Honoring Beauty → Spontaneous Gratitude

Honoring beauty is the simple action that leads to gratitude.  I’d say it basically means “notice with respect and humility.”

When we notice the beauty in our lives without pausing to quiz ourselves about whether or not we deserve it (or justifying why we do deserve it,) we naturally feel grateful.

Then actual gratitude just… arises. Spontaneously. Like magic! It’s not a thing we have to apply to our lives or do to ourselves.

It can be really, really simple to honor beauty and feel gratitude.

You don’t need any supplies, but if you like them – go for it. An altar, a journal, a photo… whatever works for you. All that’s actually required is an openness of the senses.

Or even just one of the senses.

Here’s an example, using the sense of sight:

  • Notice the beauty in small, quotidian things.
    • I see an intricate bird’s nest outside my window.

Bam. That’s all you need to do with your outward senses. Now the rest of it becomes internal:

  • Feel the feelings that arise when you notice small, quotidian things.
    • What a peaceful feeling that bird’s nest gives me.
    • I love seeing life that’s outside of my own life.
    • I’m in awe of that tiny bird’s craftsmanship.

And that’s all you need to do on the inside. Just allow the feelings to arise, and feel them. If you want to, you can then:

  • Notice how those feelings can create more of the same feelings.
      • Wow… I can just *think* about that bird’s nest and feel peaceful. I only need to see it in my mind’s eye, and I can benefit from it.

    Now I’m noticing similarly beautiful things – like that spider’s web. Or the ripple of the new butter in the tub.

Honoring beauty can take practice, and so it deserves your patience and self-kindness. Which is, I think, the actual point of any practice.

Wishing y’all well,


PS – What About the Bad Feelings?

If we allow ourselves to feel the bad feelings, won’t we just attract more bad feelings?

Denying the “bad feelings” will never make them go away. Denial doesn’t allow things to change, because it keeps stuffing them down. And so they keep popping back up. If there’s an endless loop of nasty chatter in your mind, you can rest assured that denial is in there somewhere.

I think it’s true that wallowing in bad feelings can create more bad feelings, but that’s not the same as feeling your feelings. You know the saying, “You have to feel it to heal it?” Feeling something is the first part of being able to let it go. There are lots of safe ways and modalities to help a person do that without self-injury.


These writings are an exploration of what it means to be human – to be sick, to be well, and to heal – viewed through the lens of acupuncture and, occasionally, herbal medicine.

My words aren’t medical advice. And they aren’t meant to be the final word on… well, anything. Rather, I hope they are a beginning of a conversation you have with someone in your life. Thanks for reading!


  1. Dreama Kattenbraker says:

    Very fine advice, thank you…will help me make distinctions between experiences of being present with whatever meets me on my path and deciding to embrace it; or run from it without guilt! There are definitely times one should “turn tail, and run”! Seeing every circumstance as a gratitude opp can be threatening to one’s evolution and/or survival.

  2. Great article for many thing time of year! 🙂

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