The Death of Gratitude

Gratitude is a conservative value. It allows us to appreciate how things are, what has already been given, and how blessed human life is because of people and actions of the past. The grateful believe that such blessings should be “conserved” for the future, and they do not yearn for utopian, worldly perfection. But to practice gratitude is not to reject progress, for we build civilization on the past—our cultural memory, our political history, and accumulated technical knowledge. To erase these would be a tremendous loss.

Encouraging people to be gracious, and to recognize what others have provided them through no merit of their own, is not about “guilt-tripping” them. It is to encourage a particular way of existing in the world. Gratitude acknowledges the plenitude of goodness that surrounds us every moment of every day in millions of small acts of people we do not know: the mailman, the electrical worker climbing poles in a storm to keep our lights on, and the countless dead Americans who founded the commercial and political institutions that still serve and protect us.

Even in the midst of this annus horribilis, of Zoom classes and quarantines without end, there is a world of people and things for which to be grateful: the scientists who developed new vaccines in record time; the millions of healthcare workers who labored to save others’ lives; the billions of dollars allocated for young people to have computers, wifi, lunches, and other social services; the millions of teachers who devoted long hours to relearning how to teach, online. Now is an ideal time to teach our young people that gratitude is always appropriate, no matter how flawed the world may be, and that gratitude makes human beings more joyful and optimistic about the future, no matter how much misfortune they may have suffered.

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