For the Not-Yet-Grateful: You're Fine!
A Meditation on Gratitude, Ingratitude, and Giving Thanks
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Gratitude: The End of the Train, Not the Beginning
Here are some things I was not thankful for on Thanksgiving, in no particular order:
—congestion and a head cold that has me sleeping on the couch so as to not keep my wife awake
—the aforementioned couch which turns into a furnace when laid on
—an early morning “Dirty Thirty” workout in my garage that had me gasping for air
—my children waking me at 5:30, after aforementioned bad night’s sleep on the couch
It’s an excellent practice to have a day set aside when we ostensibly give thanks for the myriad things which envelop our lives. And giving thanks is indeed commanded of the Christian: it’s the just response for good things given, like rain, mercy, or the sweater that isn’t quite what you wanted but lovingly chosen.
But the ultimate aim of giving thanks isn’t just that we perform this action called “giving thanks”. It does us little good to simply be able to do a certain action repeatedly—this is what we call a machine. What matters is that, through certain against-the-grain actions, of giving thanks, we become people who are grateful. To be grateful is to be those whose lives are characterized by an ongoing disposition toward seeing our lives and all that is in them not just as enjoyable but as good for us.
This is what distinguishes gratitude (as a virtue, part of our character) from the act of giving thanks (something we summon up when the occasion arises, or on Thursdays in November). It’s the end of the train, not the beginning. Put differently, you’re not required to be grateful, or even thankful, for a bad nights’ sleep. Or grouchy children. Or cancer.
So how do we get there? By owning not just our ambivalence toward certain things, but by first owning our ingratitude.