TED Conversations

Arkady Grudzinsky


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Should we feel gratitude for our life? To whom?

Gratitude is important feeling in interpersonal relationships. Gratitude encourages giving and giving encourages more gratitude, etc. On the other side, lack of gratitude comes with a sense of "entitlement" - they mutually create each other as well. Lack of gratitude discourages giving and creates a sense that the world "owes us" a living. "We are programmed to receive." Gratitude, in my opinion, offers an exit from that proverbial Hotel California and "programs us to give".

How about our life and other things shown in this video? Religious people usually thank God for these things. The camera shows a standing round of applause at the end of the video. I very much doubt that most people attending TED talks are religious, so the video must have stirred some emotion in believers and non-believers alike.

Do non-believers feel gratitude for these things? If yes, to whom?


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    Dec 2 2012: Several years ago I adopted a daily gratitude practice, but the funny thing is, I never thought of being grateful to anyone. It's more a sense of profound appreciation and wonder for all the things I have in my life, starting with the very fact that I am alive to experience this day. This experience for me has nothing to do with religion or any deities. It's a very spiritual experience of feeling alive to live this day today. Beautiful nature scenes do it to me too, as does contemplating the complexities of our universe. For me there's simply no one to be grateful towards for these things, yet I am filled with gratitude.

    I think there's a different but related kind of gratitude which functions to reinforce the value of giving within society. In this context, the gratitude must be directed towards the acknowledgment of the benefit that one has received from a specific benefactor.

    So to answer your question succinctly within my own personal framework: Yes we should feel gratitude for our life, but not to anyone - just feel the gratitude.
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      Dec 2 2012: Thanks a lot for your reply. I wouldn't call myself deeply religious. I grew up in the Soviet Union on ideas of Marxism-Leninism. Up until recently, I did not clearly understand what the word "spirituality" means. A few years ago, for various reasons, I decided to try practicing some religious things - give thanks, forgive and ask forgiveness, volunteer, donate to charities, wish well to people even those I don't like. I have noticed that life at home and at work became far more enjoyable. I felt less stress, less frustration with circumstances and people. My relationship with many people improved.

      I think, religion is not about god. Religion is about ourselves. It's not about belief in supernatural. I see miracles in the Bible as metaphors telling us that if we practice certain things, miracles will happen inside ourselves.

      Oddly, since I became interested in religion, I became more interested in science too. I started asking myself questions: Is it unreasonable to believe in God? What is the difference between belief and knowledge? How much evidence do we need to believe something? Do we need evidence for everything? How do we make our decisions - by reason or otherwise? I questioned those who advocate questioning everything. I became interested in philosophy, psychology, and history. I found that things that seemed self-evident are completely irrational and irrational things (like this feeling of gratitude), actually, "make sense". (What does "make sense" mean, anyway?)

      This thread convinced me that feeling gratitude for our existence is just a spontaneous irrational emotion. Gratitude does not have to be directed at anyone as many people pointed out. I find it an interesting conclusion.
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        Dec 2 2012: You said, "gratitude for our existence is just a spontaneous irrational emotion." Personally I think it's more than that. It serves an extremely important function in my psychological well-being: It helps contribute towards a deep, long term happiness (or joy or satisfaction, etc.) that is not subject to the ups and downs of life. It's one of several practices I find are necessary for my own personal well being, but a crucial one nonetheless. Not sufficient by itself, but crucial.
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          Dec 2 2012: I also believe those things. I still believe that this feeling, as most other feelings, is "not endowed with reason or understanding", i.e. "irrational". Often, we cannot explain what this feeling is - amazement or gratitude. We cannot explain "to whom". Yet, we feel it without a reason (spontaneously). And we feel that it's essential and beneficial for us...

          Now a strange thing happens. As we feel that it's essential and beneficial, it stops being irrational and spontaneous, because, suddenly, we make a willful decision to feel this way and can explain why.

          If you read TED Lover's most interesting response, gratitude can be considered detrimental to our well-being. Reason can take us wherever our passion commands.
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        Dec 2 2012: Arkady,
        I agree with Danger, that gratitude is much more than an irrational emotion.

        Irrational: "not endowed with reason or understanding; lacking usual or normal mental clarity or coherence".

        So, perhaps if one does not understand gratitude, or have clarity or coherence regarding the use and benefits of gratitude, it may seem irrational?

        I also believe that it contributes to my psychological well-being, contributes to deep, long term happiness, contentment, joy, satisfaction, peace and harmony in the life adventure.
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          Dec 2 2012: Not regarding the use and benefits, but regarding the feeling itself. I believe, I'm fairly clear about the use and benefits.
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        Dec 3 2012: In my humble perception Arkady, the feeling itself is one of the benefits...psychological well-being, happiness, contentment, joy, satisfaction, peace and harmony. What are the benefits in your perception?
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          Dec 3 2012: There we go. The feeling is its own benefit. Just like life is its own purpose. Circularity again. :-)
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        Dec 3 2012: Yes indeed my friend Arkady:>)
        In my perception, everything is interconnected, so when we are genuinely feeling gratitude, we are contributing to our own well-being, as well as contributing to the well-being of humankind:>)

        Do unto others.......
        What goes around, comes around....

        "Life begets life,
        Energy creates enery,
        It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich"

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