A recent workshop at the University of California, Berkeley showcased the newest and hottest findings in the science and practice of gratitude.  Impressive as the advances were, not one speaker (myself included) grappled with what may be the single biggest question that stands in the way of making the basic science useful for practical applications: What must be overcome as a culture or as individuals in order for gratitude flourish?

We live in a nation where everyone is on the pursuit of happiness. Each individual has his or her own path this journey takes. For some, the search begins in books; for others it comes through service. And perhaps the most popular form of seeking happiness is through the accumulation of “things.”  Materialism, though, is bought at a cost. A society that feels entitled to what it receives does not adequately express gratitude. Seen through the lens of buying and selling, relationships as well as things are viewed as disposable, and gratitude cannot survive this materialistic onslaught.  The lack of gratitude is contagious, and is passed from one generation to the next.  Conversely, the act of gratitude is also viral and has been found to greatly and positively influence not just relationships, but one’s own emotional status.

Research has proven that gratitude is essential for happiness, but modern times have regressed gratitude into a mere feeling instead of retaining its historic value, a virtue that leads to action. Just as great philosophers such as Cicero and Seneca conclude in their writings, gratitude is an action of returning a favor and is not just a sentiment. By the same token, ingratitude is the failure to both acknowledge receiving a favor and refusing to return or repay the favor. Just as gratitude is the queen of the virtues, ingratitude is the king of the vices.

Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to choose it, by default we choose ingratitude. Millions make this choice every day. Why? Provision, whether supernatural or natural, becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted for granted.  We believe the universe owes us a living. We do not want to be beholden. Losing sight of protection, favors, benefits and blessings renders a person spiritually and morally bankrupt.  It’d be hard to improve upon the words of our 16th President: “We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own” (Lincoln, 1863).

Saying No Thanks To Gratitude

Perhaps the most famous instance of ingratitude in history is found in the New Testament gospel of Luke.  Jesus heals ten lepers of their physical disease and in so doing of their social stigma. Pronounced clean of their contagious condition and no longer social outcasts, they get their old lives back.  Being brought back from near death, you’d think they’d be overwhelmingly grateful, right?  Yet only one returned to express thanksgiving for being healed.  Knowing full well that only one would come back thankful Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?  And then he said to them, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'” (Luke 17: 16 -18)  Biblical scholars of this passage agree that by “faith” what Jesus really meant was thankfulness, as in “your gratitude has made you well” (Tchividjian, 2013).   The parable reminds us of just how common ingratitude is and how easy it is to take blessings for granted, and how gratitude is dependent upon unmerited favors.

Were the others ungrateful? Perhaps they were just forgetful.  After all, given back their dignity, they were no doubt in a hurry to return to their families and old lives. Contemporary research, though, paints a more complicated picture of ingratitude.  People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval. Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity. They expect special favors and feel no need to pay back or pay forward. Given this constellation of characteristics, being grateful in any meaningful way is beyond the capacity of most narcissists. Without empathy, they cannot appreciate an altruistic gift because they cannot identify with the mental state of the gift-giver. Narcissism is a spiritual blindness; it is a refusal to acknowledge that one has been the recipient of benefits freely bestowed by othersA preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors, or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful.

Entitlement is at the core of narcissism. This attitude says, “Life owes me something” or “People owe me something” or “I deserve this.” In all its manifestations, a preoccupation with the self can cause us to forget our benefits and our benefactors or to feel that we are owed things from others and therefore have no reason to feel thankful. Entitlement and self-absorption are massive impediments to gratitude.   You will certainly not feel grateful when you do receive what you think you have coming, because after all, you have it coming. Counting blessings will be ineffective because grievances will always outnumber gifts.

Were narcissistic entitlement a condition that afflicted only a small percentage of humankind, then there would be little cause for concern. Indeed, psychiatrists estimate that only one percent of the general population meets the clinical criteria for narcissistic disorders. However, narcissistic characteristics are found in all individuals in varying degrees. Early childhood is marked by egocentrism, the inability to take another’s perspective. This preoccupation with one’s own internal world is a normal stage of human development.  Over time, most of us evolve out of this restricted perceptual lens.  However those who continue to see the world primarily from the inside out slide down the slope from ordinary egocentrism to entitled narcissism.

The Truest Approach to Life

Is there an antidote to ingratitude? Gratitude is often prescribed as the remedy for the exaggerated deservingness that marks narcissistic entitlement. But what enables gratitude in the first place?

According to Mark T. Mitchell, professor of political science at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, “Gratitude is born of humility, for it acknowledges the giftedness of the creation and the benevolence of the Creator. This recognition gives birth to acts marked by attention and  responsibility. Ingratitude, on the other hand, is marked by hubris, which denies the gift, and this always leads to inattention, irresponsibility, and abuse.” In gratitude and humility we turn to realities outside of ourselves. We become aware of our limitations and our need to rely on others. In gratitude and humility, we acknowledge the myth of self-sufficiency. We look upward and outward to the sources that sustain us. Becoming aware of realities greater than ourselves shields us from the illusion of being self-made, being here on this planet by right—expecting everything and owing nothing. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed. Humility ushers in a grateful response to life.

Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others. We all do. We are not self-sufficient. We did not create ourselves. We depend on parents, friends, our pets, God, the universe and yes, even the government, to provide what we cannot provide for ourselves. Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.

Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally, particularly in a culture that values self-aggrandizement. It requires the sustained focus on others rather than self, or as the Jewish proverb states, humility is limiting oneself to an appropriate space while leaving room for others.  Thinking about oneself is natural; humility is unnatural. Perhaps this is why gratitude is counterintuitive. It goes against our natural inclinations. We want to take credit for the good that we encounter. This self-serving bias is the adult derivative of childhood egocentricity.

Reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift. It is not a getting of what we are entitled to. My eyes are a gift. So is my wife, my freedom, my job, and my every breath. Recognizing that everything good in life is ultimately a gift is a fundamental truth of reality. Humility makes that recognition possible. The humble person says, “How can I not be filled with overflowing gratitude for all the good in my life that I’ve done nothing to merit?” The realization that all is gift is freeing, and freedom is the very foundation upon which gratitude is based. True gifts are freely given, and require no response. Jesus was free to withhold the gift of healing and he did not demand the other nine who were healed return to express gratitude. The one who did return exercised his freedom as well. Gratitude sets us free.


Tchividjian, T. (2013). One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do we see society through a lens of gift and gratitude, or through a lens of entitlement and ingratitude? What are the dangers, from a collective perspective, of societal ingratitude?
  2. In contemporary life, do we have an obligation to be grateful? If so, to whom?  For what? Does thinking about gratitude as an obligation reduce or enhance its ability to transform individuals and communities?
  3. In 2011 the United Nations passed a resolution encouraging countries to take happiness seriously as a factor in policy making, claiming that it was more important for quality of life than Gross National Product. Is it time to do the same with gratitude? A Gross National Thankfulness? Why or why not?

Discussion Summary

In the novel Another Case of Ingratitude, author John Reed tells the story of well-intentioned benefactor who rescues a homeless person from a bitter night, buys him a warm meal, and provides him with money for a night’s lodging. As life is slowly restored to the poor unfortunate individual, the benefactor attempts to strike up a conversation with him but his questions are rebuffed, and his motives for doing good are impugned. Angrily, the benefactor defends his charity and then shows contempt for the recipient’s apparent ingratitude:

“Well, you’re a strange specimen”, I said angrily. “I don’t believe you’ve got a bit of gratitude in you.”


“Gratitude Hell!” said he easily. “Wot for? I’m t’anking my luck, not you—see? It might as well have been me as any other bum. But if you hadn’t struck me, you’d a hunted up another down-and-outer. You see,” he leaned across the table, explaining, “you just had to save somebody tonight. I understand. I got an appetite like that, too. Only mine’s women.” [1]

Sometimes, as this story shows, people receive gifts and, for complex reasons, they react with ingratitude. The act of giving and receiving a gift can be fraught with a widely diverging assortment of perceptions, psychological states, and conflicting emotions.  The dynamics of giving and receiving, the relationship between donor and recipient, perceived motivations of each, and their prior histories in similar situations influence the degree to which gratitude is felt, as well as the way in which gratitude is expressed. Sometimes gifts bring joy; at other times they come with pride, and, if certain circumstances are present, they can also bring envy, hatred, greed, and jealousy.

The Reed story leaves many questions unanswered. Was the benefactor’s expectation of and insistence on gratitude inappropriate? Could the destitute man have responded more graciously? Might their interaction have been more mutually enriching or was it the inevitable outcome of a clear status differential? Sensing ulterior motives in the benefactor’s generosity, it was impossible for the homeless man to believe that the giver sincerely cared about his plight. Though the benefactor thought he was being charitable, there was nothing of himself in the gift, and his recipient sensed this. Such a diminished cost destroys gratitude.  Although gratitude appears to be a deceptively simple and straightforward social emotion, upon closer inspection the picture is considerably murkier. The Reed story is actually less complicated, as an example of gratitude, than many of the gift-giving and gift-receiving situations we encounter in our everyday lives. The homeless man and his benefactor, after all, had never met. Gratitude is even more complex and uncertain when the giver and the recipient have a long and complex history together. No matter the gift, it is hard to accept one gratefully from someone we don’t like; even worse from someone who has hurt us.  These are just some of the obstacles that sometimes prevent us from experiencing gratitude, as well as the factors that can propel people into a hardened stance of complete ingratitude that I wrote about in my previous essay.

The Three Foundations of Gratitude

The grateful life, as I see it, consists of the following three foundational components. The first is looking for the good. Gratitude requires a person to notice, to find, to see, to acknowledge, to recognize the good in themselves, in others, and in the world. But it is not enough to see the good, we must take it in. We gracefully receive the good gifts given to us. The second component is taking in the good. Gratitude is grace.  The word gratitude is derived from the Latin gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, gratuity, or gratefulness. All derivatives from this Latin root have to do with kindness, generousness, gifts, the beauty of giving and receiving, or getting something for nothing. Often gifts cannot be accepted for what they are, free gifts that cannot be earned or deserved. Grace and gratitude go together like heaven and earth, wrote theologian Karl Barth.

The inability to give away the goodness we have received is the final obstacle that must be overcome in order for gratitude to flourish. Gratitude becomes thanksgiving when we engage with the world through purposeful actions to share and increase the grace that we have received. The third and final component, therefore, is giving away the good.  It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to return the goodness that we have been given. It is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.

New Big Questions

  1. In the “if-then” conditional world in which we live, is the concept of grace counterintuitive? We are not used to getting something for nothing. In what sense does receiving unmerited favor actually become an obstacle to gratitude rather than a source of it? How can we overcome this conditionality in human relationships?
  2. Is the concept of grace amenable to scientific study? What might be some of the fruitful lines of inquiry that can potentially shed light on the nature of divine grace, the human response to divine grace, or human expressions of grace?

[1] John Reed, Another Case of Ingratitude.  Reprinted in Adventures of a Young Man: Short Stories From Life.  San Francisco: City Lights, 1975, pp. 47-50.

19 Responses

  1. abed.peerally says:

    Its a big question which leads to several big questions such as whether cultivating a habit fo being grateful leads to better communities. Yes it will. There is currently more and more issues which draw people away from being grateful. Bad governing, economic problems, family problems etc and many books and articles which draw people away from a sort of spiritual life. I am myself from a very moderate family spiritually but we are more inclined towards spiritual values: kindness, helpful, gratefullness etc. However even if we are not very religious it is important to start to be very grateful that we exist in a world and universe which must have been unimaginably problematic to create with its geography, biology, physics and cosmology. I am currently starting writing my fifth paper on issues which hopefully will lead lead to the integration of philosophy, religion and science which in an intriguing way should be one discipline for some aspects of our realities. I know I will be able to do so in my 7th paper or so. If we are not grateful to the mind which created the universe, in Einstein’s concept of a creative mind for  the universe, then we do not know what is meant to be grateful. Many of our most eminent people who started not recognising this fact have later in their life expressed regret and have shown their gretefulness of existing. Then to be grateful for everything else will be much much easier.

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Thank you very much Abed, for sharing these important insights. You are indeed trafficking in big questions!

      I have long thought that the concept of gratitude has cosmological moorings. That is,  when we are grateful for something we consider its origins. Where did it come from, and for what purpose does it exist?  As a simple and concrete example, consider food.  We are often unaware as to how or where our food is produced. Is this not one reason for the farm-to-fork movement? This is also why gardening and growing one’s own food can make us grateful. We contemplate the sources of what we would otherwise take for granted. We have greater appreciation and respect for our food. It also reminds of how challenging life would be if we had to rely on our gardens to support ourselves as our ancestors did. How could this not make us more grateful?

      I look forward to reading your papers.

  2. Peter Samuelson says:

    Thank you, Bob, for this essay :-).  As a part of a team studying intellectual humility I was struck by the connection you made between gratitude and humility and wondered how might this work in the realm of cognition and the intellect.  Intellectual humility is often defined, in part, as a realization that there are limits to one’s knowledge. We have found in a study of the “folk” conception of intellectual humility that traits such as a love of learning and curiosity are unique descriptors of an intellectually humble person (not used to describe a wise person, for example).  I wonder if, just as humility leads to gratitude, intellectual humility might lead to curiosity and love of learning through the mechanism of gratitude. For the flip side to the realization that there are limits to my knowledge is the realization that others have much to teach me. If I am grateful for the thoughts and insights of those who have gone before me (like Cicero, Seneca and Emmons), would I be more motivated to learn from them, or seek their wisdom?  Or is it enought to be simply intellectually humble, knowing I have a lot to learn?  Could gratitude mediate a love of learning?

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Peter, Thank you very much for your insights. I think that gratitude represents an open stance toward the world. It opens us up to receiving goodness, it opens us up to receiving gifts, it opens us up to our own goodness that we give back or give forward when we reciprocate that which we have received.  It might be called the “soul-opening emotion.” In the taxonomy of strengths and virtues love of learning and gratitude as positively correlated, so you are on to something. This leads me to wonder if gratitude interventions might effectively increase intellectual openness. Lastly, if you group me with Seneca and Cicero you will make it difficult for me to remain humble!

  3. George Gantz says:

    Thank you Dr. Emmonds for this article on one of the most important “big questions” for modern society. Our affluent, secular society is indeed a victim of its own success.  Material wealth and personal freedoms have vastly reduced poverty and deprivation and increased health, liberty and the variety of opportunites  to ascend into the higher levels of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, even to the pinnacle of self-actualization!  But something has gone wrong – in the process of embracing material affluence and personal autonomy we have lost the cultural values of virtue, forgiveness and sacrifice.  Self-actualization has become mere self-indulgence and self-gratification.

    While this may seem to be true generally of our broader society, I am hopeful that this is partly a function of the limited range of what we are allowed to see.  The increasing hyperbole, even hysteria, of our modern media products including news, entertainment, marketing and social media does not reflect a true picture of our society.  For example, violent crime has significantly decreased in recent decades – but you would never know it from watching the evening news.  At the same time, we have always been, and continue to be, a highly empathic species.  I believe most people do really care about family and friends, and for underdogs everywhere.  People I meet – almost all of them – are basically nice.  Most of them are grateful for life health, family. friends and the blessings of modern life.  Many of them are grateful to God – or to a shared purpose or sense of beauty, joy and humanity.  It makes you wonder – if there were a measure of Gross National Thankfulness across time and across the world, we might be surprised at what we find.

    If the disconnect is largely in the public sphere, then the antidote is more voices preaching the gospel of affirmation and gratitude.  For too long, cyncisim and materialism have been cool.  It we can make humility and gratitude as attractive in the public eye, then I believe basic human nature will win out and our lives and communities will grow collectively richer and more personally fulfilling.  

    You deserve a lot of credit for leading the crusade for gratitude.  I am trying to do my part, in a small way, by writing on the Integration of Science and Spirituality (the ISAS Forum – http://www.swedenborgcenterconcord.org).  Francis Bacon and Emmanual Swedenborg both called for humility in our investigations of “the Works of God and the Word of God.”  As you noted, humility is fundamental to our ability to be grateful for the blessings or life, knowledge, and love, and gratitude is transformative.

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Thank you very much George! The first book I ever wrote on gratitude, Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul was coauthored with Joanna Hill, a dedicated Swedenborgian. She shared with me   Swedenborg’s insights that those who feel love toward the neighbor and a blessedness toward God are in a grateful sphere or heavenly state, and are thus in heaven. Also that it is through gratitude we have the ability to live in a joyful, peaceful state; in its paradoxical, elusive way, gratitude is the door to many heavenly gifts. But the door is low, and Swedenborg reminds us that we must humble ourselves to enter.

      I very much agree that we are exposed to a very limited view of reality through most of the sources that we rely upon to form our impressions of current societal trends. I do believe, though, that we are currnetly experiencing something of a “gratitude renaissance” or “gratitude revival,” and I share with you a hopefulness that this movement will be broad, deep and sustained.


  4. Roy Baumeister says:

    I concur very much with the emphasis on narcissism as a problem. Narcissists feel entitled and so they have less inclination to feel grateful. There are multiple signs that our culture is promoting narcissism, dating back to Lasch’s book Culture of Narcissism in the 1970s, to more recent analyses by Twenge and Campbell documenting the steady rise in narcissism. The title of your essay asks what must change in society. If we want to reduce narcissism, perhaps we should re-think how we raise our children. The current system of administering endless, indiscriminate praise and extolling everyone as special looks like a major contributor to narcissism. Earlier generations worried about “spoiling” children by too much praise and indulgence, and excessive feeling of entitlement was seen as a central indicator that a child had been spoiled in this way. Perhaps some mixture of old and new parenting styles would produce better results? 

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Thank you Roy.  I came across a survey that asked parents what they worry about the most with regard to their children. I thought they would most fear the economy, global conflict, drugs, or moving back home after college? None of these are at the top of the list. Two-thirds of parents said they were concerned about their children’s sense of entitlement.   Furthermore, when asked where this sense of entitlement comes from, 85% of the parents blamed themselves!

      I often get asked by parents how  to make grateful children. One response I give (though I think it is not the one they want to hear) is that you cannot give your kids something that you yourselves do not have. I think the old adage that ‘virtues are caught, not taught” applies here.

  5. Michael MacKenzie says:

                I enjoyed reading Dr. Emmons’ insightful comments about gratitude. There are probably a host of personality traits that make it difficult to have a society completely absent of ingrates. I agree that a high sense of entitlement is one such trait. Another possible trait making it difficult for one to experience gratitude is feeling (or wanting to feel) that one is powerful and independent. This motivation to be powerful and independent is distinct from humility, but the two are most likely inversely related. Experiencing and expressing gratitude involves acknowledging (implicitly or explicitly) that a benefactor provided something the beneficiary presumably could not provide for themselves. Thus, to some extent, gratitude involves recognizing a dependence on and submissiveness toward someone else. This is not something that comes easy to our independent minded power driven friends.  Perhaps a useful step toward finding an antidote to ingratitude would be to understand exactly why people with these types of traits tend to feel and express less gratitude. And under what circumstances (if any) do entitled and power driven people feel just as grateful as anyone else? My research is beginning to explore some of these questions.

                Dr. Emmons raised an intriguing question about gratitude as an obligation. But I believe gratitude as an obligation would take away from the positive effects associated with gratitude. If one receives thanks knowing that it was obliged, it loses much of its power. What is important about both feeling gratitude and receiving gratitude is knowing (or at least believing) that the other sincerely cares about your well-being or truly recognizes your kind action. Perceiving that a person was obligated or otherwise forced to do what they did will decrease the intensity of gratitude one experiences. Adding in any obligatory or mandatory component would likely do more harm than good.  This makes the problem all the more difficult. It is not enough to simply instruct people when and how to express gratitude, that part is easy. The hard part is learning how to encourage people to actually feel gratitude in the first place.

    • Robert Emmons says:


      You make several important points for which I am grateful. The connection between gratitude and obligation is an important issue that has been debated in the philosophical literatures on the nature of gratitude and its requirements. The critical question, I think, is how does a person pay back the good that he has received? Verbal thanks is perhaps the most common, but not the only response following the receipt of a gift. My point, though not made clearly, is whether we are obligated to help others in return for our good fortune? Do we owe gratitude to our benefactors or to society in general? There are strong moral reasons to support gratitude. Yet gratitude is different than other obligations. We can, for example, care for aging parents without necessaruily feeling grateful to them or acting out of gratitude for their parenting. if you take two adult children, one whom gives to aging parents out of duty and another out of feelings of gratitude, the behavior is the same but the motives are different. Has the former derelicted his or her duty because they cannot conjure up the concomitant feelings?  Feelings are not under a person’s control, but actions are. In our research on gratitude and kids we have developed a gratitude curriculum that is designed to teach children how to recognize a benefit and how to attribute the benefit to the costly, effortful intentions of the benefactor. So fare ti is appearing to me an effective means for encouraging youth to feel gratitude and to recognize situations where it is the approriate response.


  6. ianful says:

    Wow you cover a lot of ground – the whole of society, the individual, the pursuit of happiness and more!

    Our culture is preoccupied with materialism, whereas if it was at least occupied with service to others, we would be better off.  Wealth of a nation these days is measured in material terms, but the real wealth is actually in the strength of the community.

    I agree with what you have written about narcissism, but comparisons between self and others, victimhood, bullying, government assistance all add to the creation of the ungrateful narcissist.  The narcissist lacks connection to God. God is connected to the narcissist, but the narcissist’s ego is not.

    I have noticed a lot of emphasis on teaching empathy to rehabilitate sociopathic persons. However I fear that this may empower narcissism even more, increasing their charm and effectiveness to get their own way.  I have found that true empathy cannot be taught, and is only really available to those that are prepared to surrender everything to God.  Muslims are supposed to do this, but they mostly end up surrendering to a religion instead.

    The self-important person wants more, more, and more. The humble person is self-limiting.  The humble are squashed for not being team players in this competitive and materialistic world.  In this crazy world, whoever has the biggest ego, most money and possessions, wins.  These people have become the role models for us unfortunately.

    The barrier to true empathy lies in our self-reflective mode of perception.  This is well stated in the Jewish proverb: ‘we do not see others as they are, but as we are’.  For example, on a bad day, everything and everybody seems terrible.  If we are having a good day, then everything and everybody is fine.

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Dear Ianful,

      I am grateful that you have called our attention to the need to be self-aware. without which we cannot reap the benefits of grateful living. I think an important reason why spiritual traditions are able to foster gratefulness is that they offer methods and means to achieve greater self-reflectiveness. Take, for example the “examination of conscience” that was advocated by Ignatius Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises. The whole point of the spiritual exercises was to grow in mindful awareness of God’s graced presence in the lives of believers. My friend Charles Shelton, a psychologist and Jesuit priest, has written that gratitude can only be acquired when we honestly engage ourselves and practice serious self-examination. Narcissists are not so good at this!

  7. SRoher says:

    We seem to be living at time when the sense of the ‘common good’ and community in the larger sense has been lost (temporarily, I hope),  and the public discourse has grown significantly more coarse and shrill. Pursuits of individual ambition and ‘happiness’ are celebrated, whereas acts of humility and sacrifice are not. I think the secularist movement (which seems more anti-theistic than anything else) has made it difficult in both the corpotate and academic world to even use this language and be taken seriously, I am hopeful that we seem to be undergoing a paradigm shift  from an Enlightenment world view based on order through hierarchy, cause and effect, and reason to an emergent view of interrelatedness, plasticity, and consciousness, which supports the recognition that we are not separate. And that may be far more welcoming soil to sow cultural values of gratitude, appreciation, and humility. The need is urgent; I would suggest that the greatest obstacle to dealing with climate change is the refusal to recognize how interrelated we are and to assume responsibility for others.

    I walked around NYC on Sept. 11, 2001 and  my fellow New  Yorkers were open and connecting, and sharing whatever we had.  Does it have to take a catastrophe?

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Thank you SRoher for pointing out that gratitude often overflows in crisis situations. The compassion that pours out in the aftermath of atrocities such as 9/11 or natural disasters like what is happening right now in the Philippines reminds us that we are all connected and suffer together. To answer your question is does not have to take a catastrophe but these events, especially when they occur on a massive scale, do remind us what we may otherwise take for granted in our own lives while at the same time openening us up to greater dependence on others and the precious giftedness of life.

  8. ianful says:

    Is gratitude the queen of virtues? Is ingratitude the king of vices?

    I would put forgiveness up there with gratitude. It does not figure in the seven deadly sins unless gratitude is done to excess.  However, ingratitude has all seven wrapped up in it.  The seven deadly sins are of course wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

    Forgiveness allows people to move on and leave their anger etc behind and not to eventually consume them.  Jesus passed on this message from our creator, but not many listen.  Maintaining anger is even considered powerful by many in this world.

    If it was not for the continuing forgiveness of our creator, many of us would not last a second longer …

  9. laser says:


        I think there are at least two levels of gratitude … the gratitude you feel inside you and the gratitude you express verbally or by actions.    I suspect that people feel more gratitude than they express   We fail to express gratitude for many reasons including the thought that others will do it, or the sense that what they did still has room for improvement,  or because it   has been discouraged by a the politically correct nature attached to being critical.   I suggest that this lack of  expression of gratitude  is the great enemy of gratitude.

        The great tragedy that occurs when gratitude is not expressed is that it is forgotten.  The question I have asked many  is “name something for which you are grateful that occurred at least 5 years ago”    It has been difficult for many to give an example with any clarity or detail to that challenge.  It may be easy, when prodded,  to give thanks for something that occurred recently, but it is challenging to even remember let alone give relevant  detail of something for which you are thankful that happened several years ago.  I believe this gratitude amnesia sets in when we fail to express our gratitude.

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Dear Iaser,

      Thank you for yet another important distinction, this one between private and public aspects of gratefulness. We have a collective opportunity to express gratitude next week, on the annual gratitude holiday. I agree that much gratitude goes unexpressed, though I have not contemplated the effect on non-expression on forgetfulness. You may be right. Expression keeps the memory alive. If indeed gratitude is the way the heart remembers (as the French proverb states) then does forgetfulness represent a type of cardiac myopathy?

  10. ntadepalli says:

    When we are talking of gratitude as a virtue,I believe we should make a distinction between “spontaneous gratitude” and “conventional gratitude (I must be grateful because society expects me to)”.

    • Robert Emmons says:

      Thank you ntadepalli. There are so many distinctions that need to be made with respect to gratitude. This is an important one, as well as interpersonal vs. transpersonal gratitude, generalized vs. event triggered, spontaneous vs. calculated (which may touch on your distinction), and authentic vs. shallow or quasi-gratitude to name just a few. The more I study gratitude the more I realize just how many layers and levels of complexity there is to it. Not all gratitude is created equal!