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

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