Nov 14, 2013 | By

Are we a Culture of Gratitude or Entitlement?

This month’s Big Questions Online projects features a commentary by Dr. Robert Emmonds (guru of gratitude) on What Must We Overcome as a Culture or as Individuals For Gratitude to Flourish?  Dr. Emmonds points out that while we live in a world dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, this pursuit seems to have morphed into self-entitlement.  When material things come to us so easily, we begin to believe that that is what we deserve and we lose the ability to be grateful.  But research consistently shows that feeling gratitude is essential for happiness.

We all have tendencies to self-preoccupation or even narcissism.  Emmonds uses the example of the story (Luke 17:16-18) of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one of which returned to give thanks, as a reminder of how common ingratitude is. He also stresses that gratitude requires humility.  Humility allows us to recognize “that everything good in life is ultimately a gift.

The comment section is worth reviewing as well as the essay.  In Emmonds reply to my comment, he noted that he was introduced by a co-author to Swedenborg:   “She shared with me Swedenborg’s insights that those who feel love toward the neighbor and a blessedness toward God are in a grateful sphere or heavenly state, and are thus in heaven. Also that it is through gratitude we have the ability to live in a joyful, peaceful state; in its paradoxical, elusive way, gratitude is the door to many heavenly gifts. But the door is low, and Swedenborg reminds us that we must humble ourselves to enter.”  Well said.

5 Responses to “Are we a Culture of Gratitude or Entitlement?”

  1. Stephen H. Smith, M.D. says:

    George, I certainly agree that a “new mythology” is not enough, and in fact we’d be better off sweeping “mythology” away entirely. Ron is right on the mark about young people being adrift and seeking meaning in their lives.

    Campbell being a disciple of Jung,was not ignorant of Swedenborg yet seems not to have absorbed a number of basic tenants. I have been eternally grateful for my exposure to Swedenborg from early childhood onward and have reflected many times on what a lost state I would be in without his Writings.

    Gratitude is an odd phenomenon; it seems that it can be cultivated in some people more readily than others. What starts as gratitude for bestowed largess can, and frequently does, turn into resentment! I have seen this in children who have been provided with a surplus of capital, especially when they reach adulthood, as it can limit a sense of autonomy. Remaining dependent cannot be a source of much satisfaction and would, I would think, even limit ones sense of freedom especially to express contrary opinions.

    Gratitude towards the Lord is a different matter. Because he sustains us both as to our very life as well as providing all the joy and delight that we receive, there is no room for us to say “what have You done for me lately”. None. The state of enlightenment we receive on reading and reflecting on the truths from the Triune Word brings about an incomparable state of delight and George I think you expressed this over our breakfast several months ago.

    Getting back to Ron’s post, it pains me that so few people, young or old, read mind expanding literature, either classic fiction, philosophy or essays. Great thoughts and ideas can anchor one’s spirit and nourish the mind simply not possible in any other way. This, in addition to learning religious truths, may be an antidote for feeling “adrift and lost”. I agree with you George that fulfillment comes with finding a faith…but a dynamic rather than passive faith, one that imbues our lives with purpose.

    • admin says:

      Hmmm. “Gratitude for bestowed largess” that is not genuinely offered from a sincere heart is not really gratitude, is it? It is more like a self-serving behavior seeking to continue the largess. It may also be imbued with a tinge of envy. I also am grateful for Swedenborg’s extensive teachings, although I was introduced at the age of 40. Swedenborg makes it obvious that what is important is the internal state of our mind and heart – true gratitude is innocent and pure.

      • Stephen H. Smith, M.D. says:

        George, so true…love without wisdom may think that it does good in indiscriminate giving. I have seen parents attempt to buy love from their already spoiled kids and it often lead to a vicious circle that you allude to, both parties trying to manipulate the other. The Janus faced kids say thanks at first then, shortly thereafter, “…is that all?” Lacking the wisdom to see where this is going the distraught giver digs ever deeper. Then too, gifts, awards, and praise may be cheap substitutes for a more genuine day to day relationship where loving kindness pervades. Dr. Emmonds points out that narcissism displaces the capacity for gratitude. Makes sense that self love leaves little room for love towards others which seems to me to be the heart of gratitude.

  2. Roncooper says:

    I have read a few posts at the Templeton site and I am grateful that this post led me to your center. However, I feel it was a little bit shallow. I am not a philosopher or psychologist, but the young people I meet today are kind of lost. It is as if they are adrift with meaningless lives. I think any one of them would trade in their video game for meaning and purpose, but society doesn’t provide a path for this, or even states that meaning is real. Many scientists believe that life has no purpose and that meaning is an illusion and other intellectuals are picking up on this. What is a young person to think.

    I could go on and on about commercial media, etc., but I won’t. Instead I will look for a path that can help bring meaning. I remember hearing Joseph Campbell say we need a new mythology for our time and perhaps he is right. Modern stories of growth and gratitude that will help the youth, and not just superheroes blowing each other to bits.

    • George Gantz says:

      Ron – I have great empathy for you and so many others that are on a “path to meaning” – in a culture that seems to lack meaning. I have been on that path myself, and was fortunate to be introduced twenty-two years ago to the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg at a key point in my life. Swedenborg provides a clear explanation of how our spiritual life (the source of meaning) and natural life should be integrated. This gave me a pathway to faith and meaning through love.

      I’m fairly certain that a new “mythology” is not enough. What we need is the ability to find faith. The posts on this website demonstrate that there is no “proof” that can bring relief to our uncertainties and doubts. Faith is required. As the website continues to develop I hope to be able to explore how to find a rational approach to faith, one that integrates science and spirituality.

      Thanks for your interest! Your contributions are welcome!

Join the Discussion

Why ask?