Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks For and To

Gratitude, it is said, is the way to happiness. In a world—a fallen world, as we say in Christianity—where there’s plenty of bad things happening, and even purposeful malevolence, the way to happiness is to notice and appreciate the good.

image found here

A common suggestion for those suffering depression is to keep a gratitude journal, a daily recognition of good things. It helps shift the focus away from the bad that is so easy to find.

But there’s something about the word gratitude that we should notice: you are grateful for something, and you are grateful to someone. Simply being grateful, in a vacuum without the connection, is something else. Contentment. Gladness. Maybe resignation. But not gratitude.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, a synonym for gratitude, let’s notice what we’re thankful for—count those blessings. And also notice who merits our gratitude. That could be family members, friends, people who have done good things for us, or who are loving toward us.

But with every good thing we’re thankful for, and every good person we’re thankful to, there’s another layer of thanks to give. That is to God. He placed those good people in your life. He blessed you with the opportunities and the life, and the support. He even gives peace and comfort when you face the inevitable bad things that happen in every life.

I’d been thinking about this idea—that gratitude, or thanks, must be give to someone—for a few days now, after watching a debate between Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore. It’s from June, and was done in Great Britain, I believe. And the debate is about the relative merits of atheism and religion. There’s just a small portion that refers to gratitude. Susan Blackmore, the atheist, brings it up. And Jordan Peterson insists that gratitude can’t be just free floating.

Jordan Peterson (right) debates Susan Blackmore
screen shot from here

In this part of the conversation, Jordan Peterson has just pointed out that there’s a lot that undergirds society that was bloodily fought for. You can’t just decide you’re separate from that when you’re the beneficiary of whatever built civilization for you. Susan Blackmore tries to agree, that she’s grateful. But he doesn’t let her get away with calling that gratitude free floating. This is about 30 minutes in:

SB: All that leads me to gratitude for all that we have. I mean, I recognize that. I recognize that has nothing to do with any religious basis at all. I recognize that I could not come on the train here, have a really interesting discussion, meet Justin again, have a nice glass of cold water, without a lot of other people doing it for me. That gratitude, which is one of the things that you quite rightly put into your book, it gives good place to it. It’s very important. That doesn’t come from anything religious, unless you say that because I was brought up a Christian, it came from there. But I don’t base it on that anymore.
JP: Where do you think it comes from?
SB: I think it comes from a recognition that—  I’ve done a lot of meditation. I’ve meditated every day for thirty years, and I think that this has something to do with it. But it’s observing the inner consequences of different ways of confronting the world. And I’m much more in recent years in the habit of waking up in the morning, even if it’s raining in January in England, and looking out and going, Ah! And it’s a feeling of gratitude. Not gratitude towards God, or towards anybody or anything. Just free-floating gratitude. That seems to have a positive consequence. I set the day up better. And it’s kind of self-perpetuating. It pops up again and again.
Moderator: Do you think you can just have gratitude in general, or must gratitude always be given towards something, and ultimately…?
JP: Well, that’s a good question. That goes back to our discussion about acting things out. Gratitude is something you feel towards something. And you can say, “Well, I don’t feel it towards anything in particular.” And I would say, “Well, all right, that diffuse nothing that you feel it toward serves in your psychological hierarchy as your equivalent of God.”
SB: You know, but it’s gratitude— This morning for example, I looked out and it was so green. We’ve had frosts and white the last few days, and it was green this morning. And it was just gratitude to the universe, if you like. It’s not really God, because it’s not a creator. It’s not anything I can pray to. It’s—  I mean…
JP: Why do you feel gratitude towards it, then?
SB: I don’t know, but I find—
JP: That’s fine.
There’s no resolution here between them. They go on to other things. But I think Dr. Peterson has won the point. You can’t have gratitude without it being directed somewhere, toward someone. And “whatever serves in your psychological hierarchy as your equivalent of God” is what you’re aiming that toward.

I prefer to be more direct. I think the God I pray to, and believe is my loving Creator, who made me with purpose, is worthy of my thanks. And I offer that to Him. In addition, there are the loving people around me who also deserve the thanks I give.

Giving that thanks does indeed make life happier than it would be without the recognition and appreciation for the good.

May you find much in your life to give your thanks for and to!

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