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Gratitude.

(77 Posts)
justaboutautumn Mon 12-Oct-09 14:58:26

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midnightexpress Mon 12-Oct-09 15:00:42

Just posted this on the other thread, so forgive me for repeating:

'If you feel empty of value you resent others, resent their gifts to you.'

I'm not sure about that. I see how it should be true, but some of the people I know with the lowest sense of self-worth are those who always seem terribly grateful for any little act of kindness. To the point where one starts to question their genuineness.

And re. Anne Frank, well I guess then one has to rely on hope rather than gratitude.

WurzelBoot Mon 12-Oct-09 16:51:10

It's an interesting question, Midnight Express.

I have a lot of thoughts, but they don't all go with each other so I'm trying to seperate them to be sensible.

I have two children, and I'm not more grateful for my more athletic son than I am for my conventianally clever daughter. I'm grateful for both in their own right. I suppose one way of looking at it would be to say 'would I not like one of them?'.

my next point is that my daughter nearly died a couple of times last year, she had scepticism and it was very, very worrying for a couple of hours. I am grateful that she lived, and I do thank God for her living pretty much every day. I do not think that I am being smug to other parents who don't have such happy outcomes. I actually think that that would be a bit of a waste of emotion.

About 6 months later she got bad chickenpox and it turned into an infection. She has scars on her face that aren't showing any sign of fading and aren't likely to. I am grateful for the following; prior to her illness I was vain and silly. I have become wiser over time, so that now the pox scars aren't something I feel are important.

With regards to your sons; I don't think it's unreasonable to be aware of the fact that your first might not have as many difficulties in life as your other son and be grateful for that. I don't think that this automatically means that you're putting your second son down. It might be possible to look at it this way; I'm glad that son2 has someone to guide him, confident and aware of the resources out there to help him.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 16:55:17

Wurzel, I'm sos sorry for the difficult time you have had with your daughter. I know what you mean about a lot of thoughts. It seems such a rich area to reflect in. Sorry for my awfully long post.

I'm partly double-posting here, because of the move from one thread to another.

On the other thread I said that I thought that the Pharisee 'smugness' that might be seen to be implicit in an expression of gratitude to god perhaps wouldn't actually be there, because of the clear Christian idea that we don't earn the good things that god bestows on us; they aren't the consequence of our own goodness.

It occured to me that might be part of the reason why the idea of gratitude to god makes me feel really angry with him. Because it would be self-abnegatory to have to thank him for an unearned favour.

You know the antonym of gratitude is resentment? And I'm sure that there are psychological accounts (Klein?) that equate our capacity for gratitude with our sense of our own worth. If you feel empty of value you resent others, resent their gifts to you. If I felt I had to be grateful to god for everything -- because he was the engine of everything good in my life -- I would feel empty, valueless, and therefore incapable of gratitude, full of resentment.

Midnight Express said that the people with the lowest self-worth were often the most expressive of gratitude towards other people. And I wondered if their plentiful thanks could be precisely because they feel so valueless, so undeserving, that they are sure that you give out of duty not desire.

When they thank you, they want you to know that they know they are worthless. It minimises their feeling of imposing on you, if they make it clear that they understand the enormity of the favour. It is a kind of fear, appeasement.

I don't think that that particular kind of thankfulness has any moral value, and I wonder if it could have any value to god. Isn't it just like the bad-Christian stereotype that Nietzsche has? Christians are weak, fearful people, with no sense of their own worth, allying themselves with a strong god to get fantasy revenge against strong humans, resentful of strength, resentful of god, ultimately murdering Jesus to placate their own sense of resentment, their hatred of strength.

I suppose you could say, against this self-denigrating account of the gratitude we might give to god, that he gave us unearned good things because he loves us.That the love should inspire in us the opposite of a feeling of valuelessness, the opposite of self-abnegation. So that we could feel full of worth, and capable of a more enriching kind of gratitude.

But what would he be loving if all of the essential agency was his? If it was he who he brought about the good things, and if he did it regardless of my merit? He would be loving an abstraction not an individual. The more of him there is, the less of me there is. I can only feel full of value, and therefore loving and grateful when, I lose the idea of a god that is distinct from me -- when I drain god of all the texture and virtue and reality that was sucked from me when god was set up as something other than me. So I think that perhaps gratitude is more possible when there is no personal god. (It then becomes gratitude to the people around you (the congregation?), since gratitude needs an object.)

I think that what I am trying to think about seems to depend on a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' thankfulness. The bad kind is premised on a feeling to worthlessness and the good kind on an acknowledgement of our own value. When we truly value ourselves we can take good things that are offered to us freely and lovingly, as an acknowledgement of our own worth and of the value of the giver. When we hate ourselves the gift does not enrich us, it fills us with envy and resentment and fear,and makes us hate the giver.

<shakes fist at sky>

AMumInScotland Mon 12-Oct-09 17:07:48

It's tricky isn't it? But I don't think that being grateful for not having a problem (disability or SN or anything else), or for someone you love not having a problem, ever means that you value them more than you would if they did. I am sure there are things you are grateful for about your second child too, and more of those will happen or become clear as he gets older. So there's no disloyalty in being glad DC1 doesn't have SN.

I'm grateful that my DS didn't inherit my DHs disability. But I don't think there's any disloyalty to DH there - we both agree it's "better" not to have a disability, all else being equal, even though DH is the person he is after living with a disability. In fact we might have never met if he didn't, but I can be grateful for us having met and got together, without that meaning I have to be grateful that he has a disability, even if one logically follows the other.

So, I think what I mean is that feeling grateful for certain things doesn't mean that you are somehow being ungrateful or unkind about everything else, or that you have to find ways to be grateful for all things equally in all circumstances.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 17:27:32

Sorry, maybe my thoughts don't really address the op properly. But I asked justa to start a thread here bcs I suddenly felt so screwed up about all these things. I think I started to see more clearly (esp after Midnight's post) how very much one take on Christianity matches my own personal psychopathology. This business of low self-worth really corrupts your ability to feel genuine gratitude -- owards people. It is always really just a reflection on to them of one's self-abnegatory thoughts. They stop you really experienceing the wealth and kindness of others. So it is kind of like being separated from other people in the same way as we might sometimes feel separated from God, by a sense of badness.

And I hope to struggle to some sense of a divinity within us, to overcome that emptiness.

mangosTrickyrice Mon 12-Oct-09 18:04:33

Maybe I should start by saying that I don't really come at any of this stuff from a Christian perspective, except insofar as I was brought up in the UK and our mainstream culture is obviously informed by Christianity. I'm not a Buddhist either, but am interested in Buddhism and some aspects of their 'take' on stuff/ the universe/ whatever.

I'm not sure about your OP, justa. Firstly, it seems strange to me to grateful for a negative - that your ds 1 isn't <fill in the blank>. For one thing, you could go on forever - I'm grateful he's not paraplegic, I'm grateful he's not quadriplegic, I'm grateful he didn't get run over this morning... It becomes meaningless, I think. If you reframe the sentence in a positive way, maybe it becomes more about looking at ds1 and less about a comparison between ds's.

The idea that you should be grateful for not being someone else - comparing and feeling lucky - I think is a bit of a distortion of what gratitude "should" or could be. For a start, I'm not sure any of us understand enough about each other to know who we should feel grateful for "not being" (the absolute extremes of human experience aside).

My own lived experience of gratitude is that it just turns up, like happiness. When it appears, it's lovely, but demanding it of yourself or anyone else is kind of pointless.
Incidentally, when it does turn up, I don't think I feel grateful to anyone, only grateful for.

ZephirineDrouhin Mon 12-Oct-09 18:17:36

Justa I'm so sorry you are having to go through this very anxious time. I'm really glad you've started this thread.

I wonder whether gratitude is not so much an act but a state of being - perhaps something like a state of grace in Christian terms. There are of course things we can do which might encourage the state of gratitude: training ourselves to register beauty/love/happiness when we can for example, or trying to forgive ourselves for not being the people we think we should be so that we might be able to allow ourselves to feel gratitude. But we can't directly make ourselves grateful any more than we can make ourselves in love. Nor can we make ourselves not grateful for the things we have that others may lack.

But perhaps we have to look at what it is that we are really grateful for. For example, are we grateful for the particular characteristics that our children display, or are we really grateful for the love that is embedded in our apprehension of those characteristics?

On the question of what this general state of gratitude might mean when we have no concept of a personal god, I wonder whether it might be helpful to think that we are dependent for all of our happiness on every other human being, since our perception of love, beauty, goodness is a product of all of our relationships, all that we have seen/heard/read, and of every part of the culture which we are born into. So there might be some meaning in this gratitude being for all humanity (in a sort of for whom the bell tolls sort of way).

WurzelBoot Mon 12-Oct-09 18:24:47

I love that poem.

Justa - my apologies, my eyes are struggling to focus today and I thought MidnightExpress had started the thread and posted twice. I too sympathise for what you're going through.

justaboutautumn Mon 12-Oct-09 18:58:35

Message withdrawn

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 19:35:10

I'm so sorry that in my preoccupation with certain things I lost sight of the fact that your questioning is prompted by the difficult time you are going through justa, with the uncertainties that you face. I know that you will find a way through it all that is adequate to the challenge.

Zeph, your final paragraph is so very beautiful and it is very expressive of what I am trying to find. I do think that the real independent value of beauty and so forth is located in our shared capacities for, and language of, appreciation of it. So that meaning, beauty, goodness, love is completely embedded in our shared culture and humanity without being made less objective by that. And I think I want to hold that as a distinctively religious truth, not just a humanist one. But probably in a way that makes the distinction between humanism and religion irrelevant or vanishingly small.

Your two points, justa, about gratitude being for something (else), and about gratitude making us happier/ being a better state. I think I'm with you there, though we put it so differently. The capacity for gratitude (the best sort of gratitude) is part of being a richer more loving and creative person, closer to other people, more open to their wealth. Less self-absorbed -- becaue we love ourselves more.

Sorry, posing in horrible washing-up-walking-the-dog vortex.

midnightexpress Mon 12-Oct-09 20:40:32

Zeph's point about gratitude being more like a state of being is an interesting one for me. To be perfetly honest, when I have those moments of pure happiness, for example in nature, or with loved ones, I don't really know that it is gratitude that I feel. Or at least I have never really thought of it as gratitude. I might feel lucky, or very peaceful.

Mango's point seems to me to be very important, in this respect:
'My own lived experience of gratitude is that it just turns up, like happiness. When it appears, it's lovely, but demanding it of yourself or anyone else is kind of pointless.
Incidentally, when it does turn up, I don't think I feel grateful to anyone, only grateful for.'

I think that's what I mean (but she puts it far better than I do). Perhaps my lack of faith means I feel grateful for without feeling grateful to. In other words, I don't feel the need for an object for my gratitude. Which is probably why in my mind the feeling simply equates with feeling happy or lucky rather than grateful.

And so deadworm's point seems very valid (my apologies if I haven't grasped the religious side of things clearly). We surely shouldn't need to feel grateful to, even if we have faith. If your god has given you all these things because he loves us, then surely it must be unconditional. If it is conditional upon our gratitude then, to my mind, it undermines the foundations somewhat.

Monkeytrousers Mon 12-Oct-09 20:55:31

Yes MI. When I have delved into studies of our ancestors, or of people, especially women and children in some societies, I feel very lucky. But it is also the human condition to think and to strive for better. This partly comes from being social animals where status is a huge motivator.

So I don't really feel grateful to anything or one, though the word might seem a good proxy, just as 'blessed' might - in a metaphoric way. In that sense, I feel more blessed having discovering a window into the workings of evolution; in the fact that there is no prime mover.

Monkeytrousers Mon 12-Oct-09 21:05:46

and as for your struggles Justa, I think we take our comforts where we can and we do so as individuals.

I do not think there is any teleology to gratitude, it is, as someone said above, just a state of being. Perhaps it is the catharsis after the end of a stressful time. It means nothing, it's just the feeling of anxiety dissapating. It is a chemical reaction but an important one in our capacity to feel empathy - another profound human trait.

pofacedandproud Mon 12-Oct-09 21:08:01

I just typed out a very long post and then my dear daughter pulled the computer plug out - maybe she's trying to tell me something. Hope you're ok justa, thinking about you a lot and realise you have an awful lot to face at present, thank you for raising such an interesting issue. I too liked Zeph's lovely last paragraph and the 'State of Grace' idea, and mango's point about gratefulness just turning up, like happiness. I can get panicky about the idea of gratefulness for all sorts of reasons, I had gone into them but can't now, will try later. But also wanted to say that Deadworm I find pretty much all your writing so full of clarity and detailed observation, I'm just glad you post here still.

Speak later.

justaboutautumn Mon 12-Oct-09 21:23:12

Message withdrawn

Penthesileia Mon 12-Oct-09 21:54:27

Ok, so drawing on Aristotle...

Gratitude need not lead to propitiation. That may well be the "social" face of gratitude (e.g. one can act gratefully in response to a favour or service; this is the social obligation to repay a "debt").

Certainly, central to gratitude is the sensation that one receives a "good" undeservedly or without merit (for if one felt one deserved a good received, one would not truly feel grateful for it, rather one would feel happy for receiving a good owed to one). This may well lead to feelings of indebtedness, I suppose.

"True" gratitude is an emotion (which cannot be faked, regardless of social convention - as midnight says "it turns up"), aroused by a benevolence which itself was freely bestowed without hope of gain. The relationality of true gratitude then is not based on moral coercion or obligation on either side. It is something other than that.

True gratitude is not, and cannot be, owed. As Zephirine suggests rather beautifully - it is a state of grace (quite literally, since gratitudo is cognate with gratia - grace).

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 22:48:33

Yes, clearly true that gratitude need not involve propitiating. That is a distinct, inessential feature of some grateful people, or sometimes (often?) of people not truly grateful but misperceiving themselves as such. That is part of the reason why the self-abnegatory Christian is only one way of being Christian.

I absolutely don't think that gratitude as such involves the idea that the good received is undeserved. We routinely are thankful for goods to which we believe we are entitled. In a day-to-day way I am grateful to the binman for emptying my bin, I am grateful for all the little services that I pay for or reasonably expect as a citizen, a patient, etc -- even though I deserve these.

But that isn't important. What I think is important is the less day-to-day phenomenon of coming to experience one's own worthiness of love and generosity, etc., and thereby coming to feel a deeper gratitude than one was capable of before -- leaving propitiation behind. I know it is true that the more 'worthy' of others' gifts I feel myself to be, the more authentic, warm, and freely given is my gratitude. The sense of undesert is what corrupts gratitude into propitiation. So I disagree with you there I think.

Is gratitude an emotion? If so it is a deeply cognitively constrained one. I can think myself into and out of gratitude by gathering evidence about, and reasoning about, a particular situation. I can change my mind about whether gratitude was in fact appropriate there. There is an emotional correlate, for sure, but I think you are saying more than that.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 22:53:48

Perhaps you elide the recipient's undesert with the bestower's benevolence? I agree that to feel gratitude we have to see benevolence in the giver -- but I disagree that this has any implications for the recipient's undeservingness.

Benevolence could, for example, overdetermine the giver's provision of the good thing, if that giver also owed it as a duty to a deserving recipient. Or, more interestingly, the benevolence could be produced by a loving sense of the recipent's worthiness of generosity.

Penthesileia Mon 12-Oct-09 23:12:10

When I say "undeservedly or without merit" I don't mean to imply that a person is undeserving or without merit in all respects - only that, in relation to the good received, the individual was without - shall we say - "expectation" of it - it was an unexpected thing.

I think that I would relegate - without wishing to diminish it in any sense - your gratitude to binmen, etc., to the realm of "social" gratitude - ie. your social understanding that certain acts require (grateful) acknowledgment as a part of the dynamics of a well-functioning, reciprocal society.

This, I think, is distinct from the phenomenon (in the epistemological sense, I mean) of gratitude.

However, as I said, this is all derived from my reading of Aristotle, who classifies kharis as an emotion. I agree that - in our day-to-day lives - it is difficult, possibly impossible, to distinguish between our different experiences of gratitude so neatly.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 23:17:31

Apologies for three posts in a row, but what you say is interesting and productive.

You say that gratitude can not be owed (to someone). That may well be true, it certainly feels true. But it might still be true to say 'You should feel gratitude (in a particular instance)'. Obligation (obligation to an entitled entity) isn't the whole of morality. We tend to associate obligation with justice (just as we tend to associate benevolence with charity). And there is more to morality than justice: the cultivation of the capacity for gratitude is certainly something we aim at when we try to be better (morally better) people.

And insofar as it is an emotion (or involves an emotion) aristotle would be happy to think that we ought to cultivate our openness to it? -- say by watching plays in which gratitude was modelled for us?

That is tangential to what you were saying though -- just interesting because I do feel that in trying to put myself into a state of mind where gratitude springs readily I am following a moral agenda as well as seeking psychological well-being.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 23:17:54

sorry, x-post. Will read.

Penthesileia Mon 12-Oct-09 23:20:10

I think there is an elision of sorts between the recipient's "undesert" and the benevolence received. But it need not be an elision centred on power, as you seem to feel - ie. it need not end in the fawning of the recipient on the giver, in propitiation. As I said, the benevolence must be freely bestowed without hope of gain - or presumably any assessment of the recipient's worthiness to receive it (that would tip the exchange into a more socially conventional relationship of reciprocity). Likewise, the gratitude is felt without obligation to repay any debt.

Deadworm Mon 12-Oct-09 23:21:42

I think I would still want to say that we can feel gratitude when we are deserving in precisely the respect in which we are given a good. And that that isn't just a social reflex. Even if the day-to-day gratitude turns out to be spurious, I wouldn't relinquish that gratitude for a loving gift in which the love and benevolence were explicitly founded on a mutual knowledge of the recipient's fullness/worthiness.

Penthesileia Mon 12-Oct-09 23:21:48

X-post! smile

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