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From Guilt to Gratitude

Use this step to quickly shift your guilt to something less painful.

Key points

  • Getting what we want can bring up feelings of guilt.
  • We can hold conflicting feelings in our mind and body.
  • Holding multiple feelings can help increase a sense of connection to others.

Ever feel guilty for winning?

Ever feel guilty for being smarter than a friend?

Ever feel guilty for getting a promotion?

Ever feel guilty for getting into the college that was your first choice?

Ever feel guilty for being alive when others have died?

Ever feel guilty for having good health?

Ever feel guilty for being successful?

Ever feel guilty for having privilege?

Ever feel guilty for having more money?

Ever feel guilty for being able-bodied?

Having something that others want or need can bring up a mixed bag of feelings. So, it's important to have tools to understand and work with conflicting emotions like shame and joy, or guilt and excitement.

Opposite feelings can and do co-exist inside all of us. It’s awareness of our emotions and how we handle our emotions that makes the difference.

For example, you may be overjoyed by the job promotion you wanted so badly. At the same time, you may feel so bad because your friend and co-worker did not get the promotion.

How do we manage such conflicts?

We certainly don’t want our joy and pleasure to negatively affect our relationships or make us feel that we have to retreat into isolation. And we definitely don’t want to cheat ourselves out of feeling happy and excited. This is challenging because of the many messages we hear growing up like “Wipe that smile off your face” or “Don’t be too big for your britches” or “Don’t tell anyone about your good fortune or they will be jealous or angry at you.”

Some people may struggle with your good news, but that is just how it is. We all have to struggle with some people having more than we do and some people having less. Even though there is struggle, we can work to maximize connection and enjoy our good fortune when it comes our way.

Guilt to Gratitude

Instead of wallowing in your guilt, which helps no one, try shifting from guilt to gratitude. Just substitute the words in your head in this simple way.

From I feel so guilty that I got promoted instead of my friend to I am grateful I got the job promotion I wanted, and I am so sorry my friend did not.

When we allow irreconcilable feelings to exist simultaneously without trying to reconcile them, there is space for more good feelings and mutual care to exist. There is space for us to feel happy and grateful as we hold compassion and concern for another person’s loss.

Holding Jealousy and Being Happy for Someone Else’s Good Fortune

When we are the ones who didn't get what we wanted, we can apply some of the same principles. For example, an old friend of mine who at one time had been an aspiring writer said to me when I landed the book deal for It's Not Always Depression, "I am so jealous, and I am so happy for you."

This was the perfect response, and it made space for both my friend's experience of jealousy and my experience of happiness and excitement. That, in turn, allowed me to feel happy for myself and understanding of my friend. I’d be jealous, too! It’s a shared emotional moment where each of us understands the other.

Next time you feel guilty for having something good, shift from guilt to gratitude and see how that feels. And, the next time a friend gets lucky instead of you, allow yourself lots of room for both your jealousy and your joy for someone else.

A+ for trying!