Grateful? Are We Really?

(Read in :03)“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”  ~  Cicero

Would you be willing to comment on a topic for me? I’d sure be grateful for your input. I have an important event coming up and I’m preparing to speak there for about 30 minutes.

Each time I write a new post I think about a topic for a day or two, deciding what I’ll talk about, hoping it will be of interest. Once I’ve decided, I spend a few (or sometimes several) hours researching, writing, finding the right photo and quotes, deleting, rewriting, and fidgeting before I hit “publish.”  Every single time, I  stew and wonder whether or not you’ll find some useful nugget worth 3 minutes of your time.

The subject is gratitude

Gratefulness has been a topic of discussion since man began to ponder life and philosophize. Ancient philosophers had been discussing gratitude for hundreds of years before Cicero (the guy in the first quote) came along. The Bible is full of exhortations to be thankful in all things, even in when troubles come along.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years. The modern science of positive psychology touts all kinds of benefits from practicing gratitude. While looking for supporting material I found virtual laundry lists of physical and emotional advantages of living with a thankful mindset. Improvements include lower blood pressure, more friends, a longer life and even a more successful career. Check out this article which names almost as many benefits as Baskin-Robbins has ice cream flavors.

Albert E. must have given the subject a lot of thought, too.

“A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.”~Albert Einstein

Is it possible we aren’t really grateful?

Reading about the good things that come from a spirit of gratitude comes as no surprise. The practice of noticing and appreciating our blessings in life is a worthy value and should be embraced. However, an article from The New York Times entitled The Selfish Side of Gratitude did surprise and shock me. Really? I guess I shouldn’t be, controversy has always sold newspapers.

The author, Barbara Ehrenreich, suggests we’ve become self-centered about it. She accuses us of a greater concern for how it benefits us than how it helps the people who provide things we should appreciate. She states we practice a sort of fake gratitude of sending “grateful thoughts” and “journaling gratitude” with no real, personal interaction and hints that it’s a hollow and selfish way to make ourselves feel better.

So what do you think? Have we become that insensitive and removed from true thankfulness? What do you have to say about the way Ehrenreich describes us? (I hope she’s wrong.) Your opinions matter and your suggestions will help me deliver a more effective and helpful presentation. I hope you’ll comment. Thank you, I’m truly grateful for you!

 “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”~Albert Schweitzer



  • Gail

    Very thought provoking! I think I do have to start with myself. This morning, I had a choice to pay attention to the few health issues bothering me .. OR remember all the other things going well and be thankful. And because I turned off my “negative voice”, I could move into the day and “it’s not all about me”. I can then contribute in a myriad of ways. This energy of thankfulness affects everyone I encounter today and they might find it hard to “be out of sync” — it might spark an inner balance they’ve been looking for. We ARE energy.. so I thinik it must begin with us first. My opinion at least…

    • Betty Streff

      You have such wisdom, Gail, and incredible self-mastery! I always learn from you! Thanks for sharing! See you soon! 🙂

  • Gitzy

    I think there are many terms that at thrown around loosely; From the word “love” or ” friend.” I don’t think that everyone saying they are grateful is faking it…however I do think it is #trendy now with all the #hashtags of the world to use words as fillers. So if One types #blessed on social media it might make someone look cooler than another??? Also, I feel like people are always on the go nowadays. It may not be that one isn’t grateful but busy and so the comment may not seem genuine . It goes without saying that we need to stop and smell the roses in this day and age, but it’s not realistic. Our generation is also spoiled. We haven’t had to live through a depression, for example, though there are still very impoverished areas of the US. We may not be “grateful” in a having lost everything and overcome sense …. but it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate what we have. Most of us go through random moments in life that bring it back home and make it very clear to us what we are greatful for such as tragedies, deaths, births…etc. it’s like the seasons… we have to have a winter to appreciate spring and summer. In life , we live our days with occasional reminders of what matters to us some hitting home more for some than others.It is utopian to want to be grateful every second of every day.

  • Traci Runge

    I feel the practice of gratitude may begin in a superficial way, expecting benefits, but the practice may lead those who would not be naturally positive people to see things from a better perspective. There are some who are just naturally grateful and positive, but as far as the act of “practicing” gratitude I feel it is a good start for those not accustomed. Like exercise, some may begin a fitness regimen for superficial reasons, but that doesn’t diminish the health benefits. ?

  • Grant Newbold

    Thanks Betty. I read the NYT article and the author is focused on gratitude exercises as a way to “feel good.” I don’t think that is the purpose of gratitude activities. My wife and I do our “gratitude book” almost every morning. I think it helps us to focus on things in our world that are good and should be appreciated. Negative events have a way of overwhelming our worlds (ie. the toilet gets plugged) and the electronic world we live in is overwhelmingly negative (count the number of positive news stories you hear this week and I doubt you will run out of fingers on one hand). I think that the act of focusing on gratitude helps us rebalance the negative/positive input that becomes the focus of our brains. If we don’t deliberately work to see the positive it will become invisible because of the power that the negative has for capturing our attention. It is simply too easy to focus on the negative and to be totally distracted by its content. Thanks again. Doc Newbold.

  • Amy

    I definitely think much of the gratitude shown on social media is shallow – more intended to draw likes. I find it difficult to believe one really reflected on what truly makes them grateful when they just retweet a photo of a sunset with a falsely attributed quote. Gratitude for me is a meditative state that is borne out by deep, reflective thought on oneself and one’s place in the cosmos. It’s not really people’s faults, though. We are so inundated with data and stressors and time-sucking events in our every day lives that it can be extremely difficult (and ironically often considered selfish) to set time aside to just…reflect on the gifts we receive in this life.

    • Betty Streff

      Thanks for your insightful and well thought out comment! I sincerely appreciate the time you spent in crafting your message.

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