Graced Gratitude and Disgraced Ingratitude
Psychologist Robert Emmons (UC Davis) suggests that gratitude is at the core of the Ignatian examen of consciousness. It is an interior depth we experience out of which flows a profound sense of being gifted. As a fundamental orientation, gratitude lends significance and meaning to relationships, events, experiences, and ultimately, to life itself. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall the graces one has received has the potential to interweave and thread together a sustainable life theme of highly cherished personal meaning just as it nourishes a fundamental life stance whose thrust is decidedly positive. As a consequence, when stirred to profound gratitude, we are led to experience and interpret life situations in ways thatcall forth from us an openness to and engagement with the world through purposeful actions in order to share and increase the very good we have received. Ignatian spirituality deepens our understanding of the nature, origins, and functions of gratitude and can guide practical ways to cultivate gratitude on a daily basis.
So us speakers were given a task, a little homework assignment as we start thinking about this conference. When it comes to psychology and spiritual formation, we were asked to pose a crucial question that needs an answer. Fortunately we weren’t asked to provide an answer, just a crucial question. Which is always much easier to ask a question, isn’t it, than to provide an answer for that question.
And so as many of as you know, I’ve been working on the topic of gratitude for over 10 years, 15 years now approximately. And writing about gratitude, doing research on gratitude, speaking about gratitude. And we have discovered in a lot of different ways that when it comes to gratitude, gratitude has the ability to heal, to energize, and to transform people. In other words, gratitude works and that’s the basic thing that I’ve been trying to demonstrate and convince people of and persuade people and show empirically the various ways in which gratitude works. And it does.
That’s not what I’m gonna talk about today. However, I do want to discuss this big question that exists, and the question goes something like this: If gratitude is so good, so good for us, why can it be so difficult? Why is it sometimes that we stumble when it comes to gratitude? Why is it that so many people have issues with practicing gratitude? Why is it that complaint seems so much easier than compliment? That disappointment seems so much easier than delight? And the list goes on. Grievance is so much greater than gratitude.
So here’s the question, the big question that I came up with, which is: What must we overcome as culture or as individuals for gratitude to flourish? In other words for gratitude to really deliver what it promises. What are those obstacles, the things that get in the way? Someone mentioned this morning, I think it was Dr. Tan, mentioned that there’s this positivity bias toward a lot of the topics that are studied. I study, and my colleagues study and positive psychons, we focus on the good things about gratitude. Isn’t gratitude great?
And wouldn’t we be all so much better off as individuals and in our families, in our schools, workplaces, churches if only we practice gratitude. All we need to do is realize that and to keep our little gratitude journals and get all our gratitude apps on our phones and write gratitude letters and make gratitude visits to everybody who’s ever influenced us in our lives, and everybody would be better off if we did all these things. But that fails.
This approach fails to recognize that there are things that get in the way. There’s obstacles, there’s difficulties. That we’re trying to live grateful lives but because we have flaws and limitations because of human nature, it’s not always that easy to practice gratitude. So one obvious candidate that must be overcome as a culture or for individuals for gratitude to flourish, of course would be ingratitude.
I’m gonna talk about ingratitude but first I just want to mention I want to dedicate this talk and my paper that will become a contribution to the volume from this series from this conference, to a friend of mine, passed away earlier this year, a Jesuit Priest and psychologist Charles Shelton. Charlie was at Regis University in Denver for most of his professional life and I learned a lot about gratitude from him. From his Ignatian perspective. He practiced gratitude. It was all about who he was and what he did. And he was very passionate about the topic and he was also a very clear thinker.
He thought it was very important to think clearly about gratitude. And evidently he never wanted his picture taken ’cause I had tried to find an image of him to put in this presentation. I couldn’t find hardly any. This was one of ’em. It was interesting that he’s obviously thinking clearly, thinking deeply, he’s counting something, something probably about points about gratitude that he wants to make. His book, The Gratitude Factor’s one of the best ones I’ve read. Really thinks deeply about the nature of gratitude and what it is and what role it should play in the Christian life, and what are some of the obstacles, things that get in the way of developing a deeper gratitude consciousness, as he might refer to it.
So thank you, Charlie, for all your work. I want to begin, then, with a quote about ingratitude from Ignatius of Loyola who said this: “In the light of the divine goodness, “it seems to me that ingratitude is the most abominable “of sins and that it should be detested “in the sight of our Lord and Creator, “by all of his creatures who are capable of enjoying “his divine and everlasting glory. “It is a forgetting of the graces, benefits, “and blessings received “and as such is the cause, beginning and origin “of all evils and sins.” Now, of course that’s a perspective from centuries ago but I can find contemporary illustrations as well.
Here’s one. This is an editorial in Theology Today. And it was entitled On Gratitude. It’s on gratitude but this is how the author begins. He says “everyone, everywhere one looks these days “one finds unhappy and upset people. “Elected officials and media pundits “focus on what is wrong with the country “and especially with their political opponents. “People in the limelight, “athletes, musicians, stars of stage and screen, “seem only to want more and more “and are never satisfied. “Parents demean their children, “children blame their parents. “Students, teachers and administrators “perpetually complain about one another.” Obviously he’s never been to Biola, right? “Advertisers make it clear in thousands of ways.” Nervous laughter in this, [audience laughs] That’s better. “Advertisers make it clear in thousands of ways every day “that our lives as consumers will never be meaningful “or sexually fulfilled until we purchase their products. “We live in a culture of deficit, demand and desire. “One deep root of the pervasive discontent these days “would appear to be ingratitude. “The inability to appreciate the gifts and benefits “one has received from others, “from circumstances and from God, “tends towards bitterness and eventually inhumanity.”
Certainly Ignatius knew that, this author knew that. A central theme in Ignatian spirituality is that of gratitude. They say about St. Ignatius that he was filled with imperishable gratitude, if not helpless gratitude. Another writer, biographer of Ignatius said that he was stirred to profound gratitude. I don’t have that much to say about Ignatius. Actually from the time I submitted the abstract that’s in your program to what I actually thought I would talk about when we were given that question, I changed a little bit.
However I noticed after my talk, there’s another talk about Ignatian spirituality in one of the breakout session, so if you want to learn about Ignatius, go to that one. You won’t learn much more here about Ignatius. But anyway, [audience laughs] I still have some good things I think, to communicate to you about this issue about what gets in the way. What must be overcome as a culture or as individuals for gratitude to flourish.
And I started thinking about a topic I’ve reflected on a bit, and that is various ideas, misconceptions if you will, biases we hold when it comes to gratitude. And I’ve called these gratitude myths. These are beliefs that people hold, both Christian people and non-Christian people hold about the nature of gratitude which can easily get in the way of practicing gratitude, of living a life filled with gratefulness.
And so I’m gonna suggest there’s five of these myths, and then I want to show ways in which these are all just that, they’re myths. They can be challenged, they can be busted, they can be exploded, these myths, when we actually look at some of the proof or evidence toward each one of these. The first, well I’ll just list the five of them and then I’ll go through each one of these. You know there’s more than five, but I find it useful to think about lists in terms of four or five, there’s so much information as I can hold in my mind at the time.
So one of them is that gratitude is just a from of positive thinking. These are things you may have heard people say about gratitude. It’s positive thinking, it’s kind of a denial of reality. You’re just focusing on all the good stuff going on in your life, or all the good stuff going on around you. It’s merely a stepping stone for personal happiness.
It’s just a strategy or tactic to become happier. List your blessings and then you’ll be happy and so forth. And that’s the only reason to engage in gratitude, in order to become happier. Number three, number three, gratitude strips people of initiative and makes them complacent. Have you heard this one? They don’t try very hard, you know, we’ll just be satisfied and won’t work very hard, expend much effort if we’re grateful.
It could lead us to become lazy, is what they’re saying, or even passively resign to a situation that could be changed with some action. If we were less grateful for it, we might do something about it. So they say, obviously it’s something that gets in the way of useful and effective action. Number four, here’s a good one, you have to be religious to be grateful, don’t you? I hear that a lot when I give talks to public audiences, and someone’ll ask the question, they’ll come up afterward and they say, you know, usually in kind of confrontational way, “are you telling me that I can’t be grateful “because I’m an atheist?” And I don’t know where they get that from because I never said anything to lead them to think that in the talk, at least I don’t think so.
So it may be something that just, is concerning to them. We tend to associate things like gratitude and thankfulness with spirituality. I mean for good reason, but then they go to assume that you cannot have that way of existing in the world unless you first have certain beliefs, for example.
And then the last one, number five, when it comes to the formation, developing gratitude, that’s a personality trait or is a virtue, or is a way of life. It’s something that you go out and get. I can work harder and become a more grateful, or that I have to do that in order to have gratitude. That’s still another myth. So in terms of what Charlie would say, we want to think clearly about gratitude. One way to think clearly about gratitude is to consider various myths that people hold about the nature of it.
Then we can be in a better position to communicate what gratitude actually is when people ask us the reasons for why we’re grateful, or why should I become a grateful individual. We can say, okay, this is what it is, this is what it’s not. As Everett Worthington has done so well with forgiveness, sometimes you have to start by saying what forgiveness is not, and explore and explode various myths of forgiveness.
So it is I find as I study and learn more and more about the nature of gratitude. So here’s one, gratitude is just another form of positive thinking. Well it’s not really, if you think deeply about gratitude, if you look at how people define gratitude, it seems, it hasn’t a whole lot to do with just thinking in a positive way. For example, it does require a more elaborate set of cognitive processes. You have to become aware, you have to recognize, requires memory. There’s thinking and there’s thanking, and you can’t be thankful without being thoughtful and sometimes being thoughtful means thinking in various levels and various degrees of depth.
Here’s a couple of definitions by people who think deeply. David Harned, a religious scholar, said this about gratitude, when he defined gratitude, he called it, “an attitude toward the giver and to the gift, “determination to use it well, to employ it imaginatively “and inventively in accordance with the giver’s intention.” That doesn’t sound like just thinking positively about something does it? Nor does this definition in their book, Bertocci and Millard, these were two philosophers.
You can always count on philosophers to get to the essence of something. To think clearly about the nature of something. This is what they do. And so when it comes to gratitude, being sticklers for conceptual preciseness, I think this is a good definition as well, “the willingness to recognize the unearned increments “of value in one’s experience, “whether the emotional response of gratitude “is present or not.”
Even if you don’t feel grateful, gratitude is still there. If you’re willing to acknowledge and to recognize that you’ve received something of value that you didn’t necessarily deserve or merit or earn. Also, though, by action suitable to the value of that has been received. So not only do you know something, acknowledge something perhaps, and not necessarily feel something, you also are required to do something about it.
That doesn’t sound like just positive thinking or happy thinking. There’s a lot more that goes with it than just that. You know in our research we found that gratitude does in fact amplify positive feelings, positive emotions. When people keep gratitude journals, when they’re given assignments to write gratefully about something that’s happened before in their lives, even something bad in their lives, they write gratefully about what they’ve learned from it. Their positive feelings are amplified. Their negative emotions and feelings are not necessarily diminished as you would predict from a simple positivity hypothesis, right.
If gratitude made you feel good, you feel good, you wouldn’t feel bad. In fact, though, we find that gratitude often co-occurs with what is typically thought of as the negative or unpleasant feelings, levels of anxiety, anger. I still remember the first study I did with gratitude journaling. We found that people were assigned to keep gratitude journals, when you compare them to control conditions and a random assignment studies, people keeping gratitude journals, they actually scored higher on self-reported levels of anger and irritability than the ones who actually are focusing on what was going wrong in their lives by writing about everyday stressors. Now that’s so weird.
Why would keeping gratitude journal make you angry and annoyed and irritated? And I still don’t have an answer for that, 15 years later. But I just say that sometimes there’s a co-occurrence because of when you become open to the positive emotions, you may become open to the negative. It may deepen both types of, the valance of both emotions, perhaps. Maybe they didn’t like to be in the study, I don’t know, there was cranky people in there.
You asked them to keep a gratitude journal, they get mad at you, they say it’s stupid, it’s silly, it’s a waste of time, that could have somethin’ to do it, who knows. [audience laughs] But again, it goes against the simplistic notion that the more gratitude you have, the less unhappy you’re going to be. Doesn’t necessarily work that way. Although you do have the magnification and intensification of the positive feelings. And you certainly have the element of indebtedness, a sense of responsibility, a sense of obligation to do something good with the gift.
To pay back the gift. That’s not necessarily easy to do, it’s sometimes easier not to have obligations and debts. So lots of pieces of evidence there we can string together to show that it’s more than just positive thinking. One of the techniques that we use to activate gratitude in the laboratory is to do what they call, remember the bad. This comes from my book, Gratitude Works, which I actually stole from the Harvard minister, Peter Gomes, who talks about doing just this. He says, “think about your worst moments, your sorrows, “your losses, your sadness, “and then remember where you are now.”
Where you were then, you survived, you’ve made it through that, you’re making your way out of the bad, the dark. “Remember the bad things “and then look to see where you are now.” Turns out that’s a very effective way of activating gratitude in the present, by remembering where you were in the past. Again, that’s not focusing on the good, that’s focusing on the bad. Yet it seems to work.
Okay, well I think we’ve argued that point long enough. Gratitude is more than positive thinking because it’s a virtue throughout history, going back centuries. All great things have been said about the nature of gratitude. It’s the parent. “Not only the greatest of the virtues, “but it’s the parent of all the other virtues. “Nothing’s more honorable than a grateful heart.” A French philosopher more recently said that, “gratitude is the most pleasant of the virtues “and the most virtuous of the pleasures.”
So throughout history, gratitude has been seen as an excellence of character. As a virtue, as a strength. Not just a way of looking at life in a nice, positive, happy way. Similarly, ingratitude is a profound, moral… In fact there’s very much stronger things said about ingratitude than there are things said about gratitude, which is interesting. So gratitude is a virtue, but ingratitude is an accusation. It’s a profound vice, a moral weakness.
There’s a few quotes right there. There’s the one from Ignatius, others from Kant and Hume and Seneca. It’s bad, right. You don’t want people to say that you’re an ungrateful person. That reminds me, mother’s day is coming up real soon, so don’t forget mom. [audience laughs] Real soon. So how can it be just positive thinking? It’s much more than that, at a number of different levels. Number three, so that actually was one and two at the same time. It’s not just a way to become happier, it actually, it’s a strength that makes life better for others as well as for oneself. It’s related to giving back, we’ll talk more about that shortly.
This is one I hear a lot, that it makes people lazy, and complacent and passive and so on, they actually don’t work too hard if they feel grateful. Yet, in fact, we find in our research, we’ve done some studies which I think partially answered this question. When we asked people to tell us goals that they want to achieve, things that they’re currently working on. Projects or goals or concerns. What do you want to accomplish in the next month or six weeks or two months. We asked this in one study, we had them write these goals, divide them into different categories. School-related, academic, vocational, relational, health, spiritual goals.
And when they were keeping a gratitude journal, they were actually more successful at making progress towards these other goals in other life domains, but at the same time they were not satisfied with the progress they had made. It wasn’t like they were, “okay, yeah, “I’ve made this much progress, “I’m gonna cross this one off now. “I’ve helped one person today, that’s good. “I can move on now, I can delete that one “from my list of goals, helping other people.” It wasn’t that at all.
They were still striving, still working. Even when we rated, we had them rate gratitude in respect to that goal, gratitude for that chance to work on that goal, was related to more striving to keep getting better and making more progress toward that goal. So even at the level of the goal itself, there was no complacency seen as a function of gratitude. So we can argue that on these empirical grounds as well.
So that’s another approach one can take that I think can be very convincing to folks who think that gratitude makes you lazy. All right, what else. You have to be religious to be grateful. It’s something that only religious people do. Now, it is the case and I’ve made this distinction before, there is something distinct of, to Christian gratitude.
Christian people do and should experience gratitude in different ways, for different reasons across different circumstances than do non-Christian people. Here’s a small list right there. I don’t have time to expand on all of these, that could be an entire talk right there. But we know that giving of goodness to someone, being kind to someone doesn’t depend upon anticipating gratitude. That might be a very important one, number three. So much of the time, we give things to people because we expect them to be grateful back to us, right? Then if they’re not grateful, it’s like we cross them off the list. No more gifts for you. I’m not gonna send any more gifts to my niece, who lives other side of the country, ’cause I don’t get a thank you note from her.
But you know, the true giving is, it’s irrelevant that she says thank you. She should know better of course, and her parents should teach her that, but if I’m giving a free gift, it doesn’t require a response. And that’s, right, amen. Christian notion of giving is that when Jesus heals the lepers, knowing full well that nine of them are not gonna come back. He doesn’t hold back the giving, right?
Obviously he knew that they weren’t gonna come back, but he healed them anyway. But yet our giving is often contingent upon expected gratitude. I’ll talk about grace in just a minute, as I wrap up. One of the things people often take Christians to task on, when they give praise and gratitude to God in public settings. Whether it’s athletes giving thanks to God, or celebrities. You know, when Matthew McConaughey won the Academy Award, did you notice that when we have thanks to God, he said, “I want to thank God,” and then people, all over Twitter was blowing up, “How could he do that?”
Others just ignored what he said and most criticized him. Because the assumption is that if we give credit to God, thereby there’s less credit to be disbursed to other people, to human agents. And they think it’s either or. You either thank God for something, a blessing, or a healing, or something positive happening to you, or you attribute the goodness to other people. They couldn’t possibly be both. It couldn’t possibly be both, right.
And I think that’s another myth that exists here. We actually did research showing that people who score high on our trait measure of gratitude, by nature they’re grateful individuals, they actually are much more liberal in their ability to give thanks to a wide variety of sources or agents in their sphere. So they thank God, they acknowledge God, they acknowledge their own effort, their own ability, parents. We ask six different skills or resources. Attractiveness, intelligence, physical health, material possessions, athletic ability. And is it due to you, to the genes, to luck, to God and the more grateful people saw more of these sources. They stretched their range of attributions, as we say.
They didn’t limit one or two, the other. So there’s no reason for these folks to be upset when someone gives thanks to God because they’re also acknowledging the role that others are playing. Number five, let me mention that one briefly. Looks like there’s about five minutes left. You have, gratitude is something that you go out and get. That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, over the past few months or so.
As I think about my own growth or lack thereof, in gratitude. I’ve confessed this in public settings before, that my wife will say to me, “How is it you’re supposed to be “this big expert on gratitude? “You’re like the least grateful person I know?” [audience laughs] She says that. And she might be right. I think she needs to meet more people ’cause there’s others out there. But anyway. [audience laughs] Doesn’t matter, she’s onto something, I think, about ingratitude. And I used to think it’s because I, something I need to go out and get more gratitude. Try harder to become more grateful. Strive more and do it better.
And I was never very good at keeping these gratitude lists and journals despite all my writing about the benefits of doing so. I never found that as easy to do. And I would get an app on my phone to do a gratitude exercise. And then I would do it for a while, and then I would forget, then I would feel bad about the fact that I forgot to do it. And even when I was successful at it, it didn’t make me more grateful. It’s like I just crossed it off my to-do list.
I felt more relief than gratitude in getting it done. So then I started thinking, well maybe it’s really not about going out and getting when I didn’t have, I think that’s maybe more, a specific case, or illustration of spiritual growth.
Does it really require us going out getting more forgiveness or more generosity, or getting more humility, or getting more love or patience, or gratitude, or whatever? And I started realizing that, now even though I’ve written books about ways to go out and get more gratitude, really maybe the answer is just living a deeper realization of what I already have, and that’s where the gratitude comes from. Living in that reality, not going out and getting that which is lacking. It’s like contentment, right?
You don’t go out and get contentment. I don’t go looking for contentment, do you? You have a deeper realization of that which you already have and acceptance of that. That’s what contentment is. So I think maybe in many respects it’s the same thing about gratitude. Whereas if you go out and get it, the focus becomes more about the self. That’s what it was. I was focusing on what I wasn’t doing, or even what I was doing. And then I felt great when I journaled or when I did my gratitude app that day, and bad when I didn’t do it.
When I realized it really wasn’t about me, it was what other people were doing for me, that I couldn’t do for myself. That’s what gratitude was about. It was acknowledging what God had done for me, what I hadn’t done for myself, that I couldn’t do for myself. That’s what gratitude was about. And just living in that reality. So, not going out and getting it but seeing that which was already there. Okay, you know, this is at the end of the spiritual exercises, there’s a prayer which I can never pronounce. It’s suscipe, or something like that. Is that pretty close? S-U-S-C-I-P-E. Where it’s about the prayer of a generous and expansive heart that has received all its gift and returns it all freely. And this is the prayer right there, of Ignatius of Loyola. I think that’s a very important component of gratitude. It’s not just the taking in the good, and acknowledging that. But also giving back or giving away the goodness that completes the cycle between receiving and giving.
And Charlie Shelton, again my friend, this is one of the themes that he expands upon in what he believes that a Christian gratitude is all about. It’s all about giving back the goodness. In fact he defines it as the giving away of the good. It’s acknowledging the goodness in ourselves and then giving back, or giving away that goodness. And he says this, “our natural capacity for gratitude “is the central point at which God’s grace touches us, “drawing us into the loving union “which is the theological virtue of charity “and making that love fruitful in action.” So I like that. It’s really about this giving away. Taking in the goodness, accepting that goodness, then giving back or giving away that goodness.
So Christian gratitude, then, inevitably leads us to the topic of grace. Living in that awareness of who God is and what God has done. As opposed to going out there and trying to get more gratitude. So some of you know this already and I came and spoke at the seminar back in the spring about the grace. And I want to move to that topic next. Not next today, ’cause there’s three seconds, two, one, zero, I’m all done. Now, there’s a clock back there. But the next topic that I take up, I think one that’s really been ignored, not so much obviously in the church theologically, but grace, psychologically. It’s something we can study. Can we study the nature of divine grace? Is that something that can be really examined and explored? How do you study this, how do you ask questions when people say they’ve been touched by grace? Or as Kelly Capik says, “God’s grace find us. “We don’t go out there and search for the grace.”
That’s like this point I made, you don’t go looking for the grace, but grace finds us. Grace, people say, transforms them, transforms their lives. Well how, and what ways, you know? I think those are very interesting questions. There’s ton of these that can be asked and that’s the next topic on the agenda for me. Personally, there’s one big question we could ask about the nature of grace, the notion that, we didn’t create ourselves, we didn’t fashion ourselves out of nothing. We didn’t ask for life but here it is.
So isn’t that the case that positions us under grace as the most fundamental reality of our lives. Is the experience and perception of God as a gracious giver the central, healing dynamic that enables us to move towards maximal well-being, fulfillment, and flourishing psychologically, morally, spiritually and physically? And that’s what this is all about. Why are we doing this? Psychology and spiritual formation. What is it that allows for, enables flourishing in all its various manifestations?
And I would submit that grace is as good a candidate as any, and then what are the obstacles, roadblocks, the myths that surround grace? Why is is that for many people it’s so counterintuitive? And such a radical concept? That it doesn’t make sense? That it’s just so out there, it goes against our desire to make things happen. To get stuff that we think we deserve but in fact grace is unmerited favor given to us despite what we do and who we are. And so I think that’s the natural next step to studying gratitude to glean the spiritual context, spiritual formation, is that having to do with nature of God’s grace and how that impacts and affects humanity. So, I think I’ll wrap it up right there. Thank you.
[Male Audience Member] Have you studied or thought much about the difference between someone who experiences gratitude but can’t express it compared to someone who doesn’t feel grateful but goes ahead and does that willful act?
Yeah. In general we don’t make that distinction in our measures or our methods. We’re generally, well, I’m interested much more in the interior life. So I’m interested in people’s experience of gratitude and those circumstances in their lives for which they’re grateful, or as a personal disposition, their way of looking at life, so they see more gifts. That all of life is a gift. The expression itself, not so much so. I’m really examine that part of it, but we know that all the research shows there is benefits of people, right, these gratitude letters, they go and actually make contact with the person, the recipient and share that letter, there’s more benefits to doing that, than just writing the letter per se.
So obviously you have that extra added component, and any emotion is not fully completed until it’s expressed. And so I think that’s a critical component of it as well. I haven’t made that distinction as much ’cause I’m more interested in the internal experience of it. But I do think that for those who have difficulty with developing the disposition of gratitude, they often do start from the behavior, from the expression of it. As they cultivate the habit of gratitude, of saying thanks, and then what they find, is that the inner attitude then follows from the behavior changes. Of course, a long history of that in psychology. That the attitude, internal change follows from the behavior change. And that’s how we teach our kids to do it, to develop gratitude in the first place. So yeah, but mostly it’s the internal experience that I focus on.
[Male Audience Member] Have you found that there’s a relationship at all between socio-economic status, a belief in a just world, and gratitude?
Yeah, I haven’t look at belief in just world so much. There is absolutely no correlation between socio-economic status and gratitude. Which often surprises people. There are those who say that they would expect that the correlation is a positive one, that with the more you have, the more resources you have, you have much more to be grateful for.
There’s others who say, well no, because then you start taking everything for granted. And it’s those that, as Dr. Tan says more the ones who know what suffering is, they don’t take anything for granted. So they have much more gratitude, there’s a much deeper level of gratitude because they realize that they might not have this, and so on. When they do studies of gratitude and they compare nations around the world based on GPA, or whatever index they use, again, you don’t find a correlation.
In fact when you do find any relationship, it’s often times those nations that have a lower overall GNP, or GPA, that, GNP. GPA would Grade Point Average. [audience laughs] That actually goes with gratitude, by the way. Our stuff with kids, finds that the smart kids are actually more grateful. But that’s not your question. So there’s actually very little correlation, but when there is it tends to be in the negative direction, rather than the positive direction.
[Female Audience Member] How would you model how to have a grateful heart and attitude when you’re in a non-Christian environment or a family with a non-Christian…
Yeah, I mean, again the myth is that you have to be, you know, be a Christian to experience gratitude, express gratitude, obviously you don’t. Just like forgiveness or generosity, or any of these other virtues. Obviously it’s going to look different, the motivation is there. We have different sources to rely on for why we’re grateful or how to maybe display it. Based upon text traditions and teachings and so on.
But it’s becoming aware of, noticing kindness. And acknowledging that, right. And giving back the goodness that you have received. I mean that’s gonna transcend traditions and text and teachings and believers and unbelievers will notice this. And then I think that’s the best way to teach that. We’ve done research with kids and their parents. We say, well, “parents want to know what’s the best way “to teach gratitude to my kids?”
The biggest, the number one question that parents have, the number one fear that parents have is that their kids will grow up to be entitled. I always thought it was that they were afraid they would come back and move in after college. But actually, that’s number three on the list. [audience laughs] Number one, number two is their health. Number one is how can I prevent them from becoming entitled.
Right, and then from that they get to gratitude. And so part of the problem, and then the answer I often give is not the one they want to hear, which is well you cannot give to your kids what you yourself don’t have. And so they themselves don’t have gratitude, you can’t transmit that because of what you say. And so, what virtues are, you catch them, you don’t teach them. Right, and so on. So we find that it’s modeling gratitude, it’s reinforcing gratitude, those are two main behaviors that parents engage in that is the way that gratitude gets transmitted inter-generationally.