Happy Thanksgiving? A Few Thoughts on What Gratitude Is and What Happens When We Don’t Feel It

Happy Thanksgiving?

A Few Thoughts on What Gratitude Is

And What Happens When We Do Not Feel


Joseph Anthony


Gratitude is
often considered a virtue.  For years I
agreed with this sentiment.  Until, that
is, I looked deeper into the etymology of the word virtue.  Having researched it
a bit, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude is not a virtue at all.  Just what I believe it is will be described
below.  First however, let’s have a quick
look-see at what a virtue is.

According to
the indispensable Online Etymology dictionary, virtue comes from the Latin, virtutem,
which means moral strength, manliness,
.  It comes from the root, vir, meaning “man” from which we get the word virile,
which means, manly or heroic.

You can probably
see from these definitions, why I think gratitude is not a virtue.  Gratitude has nothing whatsoever to do with
“manliness” (whatever that is, really), nor with valor or strength.  It’s not heroic either.  Sure we sometimes have a hard time “feeling”
grateful for one thing (event, situation, person, experience, etc.) or another,
and sometimes we try to force ourselves to feel grateful even when we don’t
feel it, but that doesn’t make it “manly.”

A lot is said
and written about gratitude.  From Oprah
to nearly every other self-help, spiritual, psychological writer or speaker,
everyone extols the benefits of feeling, practicing, and expressing gratitude.  And underneath many of these experts of
gratitude runs a thin (and sometimes wide) stream of guilt and shame for those
who don’t get it or feel it.  I think
this is partially because most people confuse gratitude, the action, with
gratitude, the feeling.

What is
gratitude if it isn’t a virtue?  And what
do we do if we don’t feel it sometimes, especially on days like today,

Gratitude is
related to the word grace (ibid) and
means good will, elegance, to sing, to
praise, to give thanks
.  These are
actions, not feelings. When I am living my truth—my dreams and desires, or
working towards them, then I will automatically express gratitude in how I
live; how I take care of my life; how I treat myself and those around me; how I
speak, how I act, regardless of how I’m feeling.  When I am in a healthy place of self-love and
loving you then my movements towards myself and you will be graceful, elegant,
like little dances; they will be full of praise for you and me, and the sky,
the trees, the ocean; I will naturally be polite, express manners towards you
and myself—basic, human decencies will be there just as my heartbeat is there.  And this way of being can happen regardless
of circumstances or environment because it isn’t a feeling.

But what
about gratitude, the feeling?  What
happens when we take grateful actions but still don’t feel very grateful? 

We are
trained in society to think there is a problem when we’re not feeling grateful.  We feel guilty, less than, like we’re doing
something wrong by not feeling something others, or our high-perfectionistic-standards
think we should be. 

Yet to feel
grateful all the time is as unrealistic as feeling sad all the time, angry all
the time, happy, ashamed, joyful, silly, guilty, etc.  Feelings were not built to last.  They come in waves. Of course we can seek out
experiences, songs, people, art, and so on, which help us feel more of the
feelings we like and, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that–if
however we do not consider it a moral failing for not feeling something we
think we should be feeling.  I guess
that’s where gratitude has come to be referred to as a virtue—a manly
thing.  We are supposed to feel it and if
we don’t work hard to feel it—just like the outdated and potentially dangerous
“male” work ethic; the one that says “never stay in your comfort zone (more on
that in another post).”  But we can no
more practice feeling the emotion of gratitude than we can practice feeling sad.  We can practice taking actions of gratitude however. 
We can practice what to do (and not do) once we’re feeling a certain
emotion, but feelings cannot be made to manifest on order.  We can invite them in, but they are like
spirits, they come and go as they will.

But Joseph,
you say, it’s Thanksgiving.  We’re
supposed to feel grateful.  Are you suggesting we shouldn’t feel grateful
or express our thanks for our many blessings?

Of course
not, what I am saying is we can express our thanks by how we live and treat
ourselves and those around us on a day to day basis.  When we treat ourselves and others with
class, love, respect, kindness, manners, dignity, grace, humor, mercy,
sweetness, strength, empathy, and so on—not just with a card and a turkey
dinner, we are expressing gratitude regardless of how it feels.  Live from a place of grace.  Live from a place of self-love and of living
your dreams.  Gratitude, the action, is
about learning to gracefully give and gracefully receive blessings. And
gratitude, the feeling, will come when it will, and, in my experience it does
come, and yes, it goes too.  I have
learned not to be too excited when it arrives nor too concerned when it
leaves.  Perhaps it’s simply sharing
itself with someone else after having been touched by the hospitality of your

To close, gratitude
is both a way of artful living and a feeling. 
Gratitude, the action, manifests when we are responsible for our own
lives and thus, when we are able to both give the gifts of ourselves and receive
the gifts of, and from, others.  It
manifests because we create it with our actions.  Gratitude, the feeling, is wonderful, and yet,
will come and go like all other feelings. 
The trick is not to panic when it isn’t being felt as warm and fuzzily
(is that a word?) as we’d like and to keep taking grateful actions even if the feeling isn’t there.

Thanksgiving, let there be no shame in feeling or not feeling any human
emotions. Let us simply be who we are: human beings trying to live as best we
can.  Let us give and receive the
blessings of who we are and let the grace of the One flow through us all.

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog

The Fullness of Being Known: The Story of Pathos, Sympathy, and Empathy

The Fullness of Being Known

The Story of Pathos, Sympathy, and Empathy


Joseph Anthony

Once upon a time there was a sorrowful star
named Pathos. He was always suffering and lamenting one thing or another;
everything was a drama—real dramas as well as manufactured ones.  And often the manufactured ones caused him
more acute suffering than the so-called real ones.  Things just didn’t seem to go his way much of
the time and as a result he lived a life of constant sorrow.

One day, an angel named Sympathy alighted
at his side and sat so still that he became like a pond that reflected what
Pathos was feeling. Pathos rose and began doing one of his daily, majestic,
tragic dances. Sympathy rose and matched him step for step. Pathos smiled the
first smile he had smiled in ages as he watched Sympathy mirror and shadow his
dance of tears. After a few minutes however, the angel Sympathy vanished without
a word into a sphere of light and was gone.

Pathos sat back down in the garden of a
million stars
 and sighed. He felt better. He felt alive—seen. No one had ever
seen him like that before. But within a day or so he was back to his suffering
and lamenting. It was then that another angel appeared.

This one was named Empathy, and she moved like the morning–gracefully
and subtly, with ever deepening gestures. She moved closer and closer to Pathos
and as she did Pathos felt like he was being perfumed with the fragrances of
lavender and amber. Gradually Empathy moved so close to Pathos that she slipped
inside his heart and began feeling what he was feeling. When Pathos rose to
dance, Empathy was in his shoes, in his limbs, in his blood and bones. Pathos
felt exhilarated. Sympathy seemed to know what he was feeling, but in a
reflected sort of way—and that was a wonderful experience in and of itself, for
many people don’t ever experience such a thing. But Empathy—Empathy knew him,
knew why and how he felt; it was a knowing of identification, for Empathy had,
at one time or another, gone through what Pathos was going through. It was an
intimacy Pathos had never known before. And so when Empathy finally told him she
had to go back to her abode of illuminated darkness, Pathos was understandably

She took Pathos by the hand and said: “Fear not, we are
now one. I have left a little of my light within you, and you have given me a
little of yours. We will forever know one another. We will forever be joined by
the bonds of sharing both suffering and joy. 
And if you want to feel me shining within you brighter than ever, then
pass my light along to someone else.” 
And with those words, Empathy vanished like swirling vapor into the
moonlit sky.

Pathos stood alone once again.  He looked around his world, his stage of
drama, and slowly, carefully, with a heart full of being known and touched, began
crafting his next scene. 

Thank you for your support.

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog

Dancing Through the Storm: Some Thoughts on Anger

Dancing Through the

Some Thoughts on Anger



Don’t let
spiritual traditions or religions shame you. 
Some traditions do this subtly and not so subtly.  They hold frighteningly high perfectionistic
standards for both our thoughts and behaviors. 
One of the things many spiritual traditions preach and teach is “bad,”
is anger.  It is often considered a
destructive emotion, a weakness, a fire from the hells.  Of course there are spiritual traditions that honor this force and give it names and transformative powers (think Kali).  However, if the Divine gets to feel it (which he/she does in all major religious sacred texts), why not us?

We may not like experiencing anger, but to
deny its existence, or to work against it, or to label it as bad, is to believe
we are somehow bad for getting mad.  This
is like believing that thunderstorms have no value or are inherently bad.  Yet lightening nourishes the earth with
nitrogen.  And thunder can be one of the
most magical, comforting sounds the summer has to offer.  So too anger, when used constructively to
empower a commitment to a dream, or to help some injustice, can feed the soil
of our hearts.  And listening to someone
who has learned to transform anger into passion (like Martin Luther King Jr.)
is like listening to verbal thunder that shakes the very foundations of our
paradigms.  It is the sound of someone
who cares deeply.

emotion can be destructive, just as every emotion can be healing.  No emotion is bad in and of itself.  They are just like weather over a pond.  They come and they go.  The pond remains.  Your heart is the pond.  Of course, storms can be quite destructive,
and scary, but in the Divine scheme, they have their place, else they wouldn’t
exist.  And of course, undisciplined
anger expressed in any impulsive ways one feels like expressing it can also be
destructive. Transform and channel anger from pure selfish (fear-based) rage to
powerful passion for a purpose.  (Rage,
by the way, is the experience most people think of when they think of
anger.  Most people stuff their anger
until it becomes rage, or have, sadly been the victims of someone else’s
untransformed anger.)   There is nothing
wrong with going out into the woods and smashing up a pile of sticks, or
swatting your bed with a tennis racket, or twisting a towel, writing (or
singing) a punk-rock song or a long, rambling poem, or going for a run, and so
on.  Use the energy instead of denying
it’s there and trying to stuff it away.  Learn
to talk about it with people who will be able to hear you. 

The end
result of trying to deny some part of myself is shame and a judging spirit for
those I believe act in ways they shouldn’t. 
In addition, the more I believe I shouldn’t be feeling something and
keep labeling that feeling as “bad” the more I stuff it down and trap it
within.  The more this happens the more
likely I am to unleash a tantrum when something trivial doesn’t go my way; the
more likely I am to be passive aggressive, or to rage in my car while driving,
or to be sarcastic and demand perfection from others. The other result of
stuffing anger is that it teaches the children around us that part of their
human-make-up is somehow wrong.  And then,
because most of us stumble our way through and end up getting angry from time
to time, we sometimes give the message to children that they’re not allowed to
feel angry—only adults can feel angry. 
But that’s another post. 

Lastly there
are physical ramifications for stuffing our anger.  We suffer a myriad of chronic aches and pains
and indeed even serious illnesses that can at least partially be attributed to
repressed/suppressed/unexpressed anger, resentment, and rage.  Many people in the medical fields even link
some forms of cancer with the holding of deep resentments.  You know what happens when you don’t let the
steam off when cooking something—it burns, bursts, and froths.  Same with the body.  It must have healthy, constructive, and
creative ways of expressing intense emotions like anger.  I have found EFT and music to be my best
transformers of my anger.  The EFT helps
me move through it and accept it on a physical level thus transforming it into
passion.  This, in turn, is translated
into my music, my teaching, my writing—a fiery passion for life.

To sum this
one up:  Anger is a part of life, just
like storms are a part of the weather. 
If we can simply learn to feel
anger, to breathe through and with anger, to channel anger; to learn healthy ways of expressing it, then we can
walk just a little more freely as human beings, created in the image and
likeness of the Divine.

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog