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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 7 2012: I think that sometimes religious people make the mistake of thinking that atheists lack all the of qualities that their religion teaches them. I've been an atheist since I was 12 and when I realized that religion wasn't real I didn't all of the sudden think, "great now I can stop trying to be good since there is no heaven or hell." I still have empathy towards others (we're all born with it) gratitude for anything that anyone did for me and I also feel the joy of giving. Helping others is in all of our nature and stems from empathy that we all have as infants (and before the religious indoctrination begins). Just because there is no fiery eternity sentenced out to wrong doers doesn't mean that doing wrong is desirable. Human's have evolved to cooperate and it's in our nature to be a good member of society.

    To whom do I feel gratitude for my life? To my parents of course, they gave it to me. Even if they were only doing what was in their nature to do. ;)
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      Dec 8 2012: I'm quite sure, one does not have to be religious or believe in god to have an idea of what's good and what's bad. These ideas come simply from our physical and social experience regardless of religion. I have been an atheist since I was born and I can confirm your experience. I was taught in a Soviet school that "religion is opium for the people" and did not give much thought to it till the Soviet Union collapsed and religion started to revive there as an antidote to the communist ideology. Just recently I wondered, what is religion all about? How does it work? Why do people do crazy things because of it? How do people resolve the cognitive dissonance between the everyday physical experience and religious beliefs in the miracles? Why would some people deeply hate religion while others feel deep reverence to people like the Pope or Dalai Lama? I have discovered many interesting things since I started asking myself these questions while trying out some religious practices.

      It is not my goal to promote religious views here. These debates go nowhere. I'm just deeply interested to understand what other people believe. For example, feeling gratitude for the beauty of nature makes no sense from the point of view of an atheist. Yet, many people who do not believe in a Creator do feel such gratitude or something similar to it. On the other side, I am also grateful to my parents for the sacrifices they made for me to help me grow up, but thank them for my life itself does not make sense to me. No human can take credit for what our bodies can do - including reproduction. Some parents do not even make a conscious decision to have children. Besides, if we thank parents for our life, we should also thank the rest of our ancestors up to the first living molecule that was able to reproduce itself. But who shall we thank for giving life to that molecule? It seems the best not to rationalize our irrational feelings.
      • Dec 8 2012: Actually, In ancient religions, people generally thank and worship their forefathers
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitru_Paksha

        The reason we thank is human life is valuable.

        There is a saying by an ancient saint avvaiyar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avvaiyar
        Its rare to be born as human
        Its even rare to be born without any birth defects

        One need not thank their mom for existence of life on earth and for her ability to bear children. But One must thank and be grateful for their parents , because, they dint abort us or throw us in some orphanage.

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        From your words:
        For example, feeling gratitude for the beauty of nature makes no sense from the point of view of an atheist
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        In my opinion, We are nature and seeing nature separate from us is wrong in my opinion. People get pleasure on seeing a waterfall because of the excitement and the refreshing feel that it gives. But still, waterfall is nature and we are also nature. Maybe A bigger being might feel excited on seeing us.

        A creator is not needed to be grateful. To be grateful is a character and not a feeling. Feelings will come and go, but a character is like an imprint. For an example one can read the story of Karna (A glimpse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karna). Even when god is against them , a person with gratitude will never let down his friend or anyone who helped them.
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          Dec 9 2012: Re: "In my opinion, We are nature and seeing nature separate from us is wrong in my opinion."
          This is a good opinion. I like it.

          Re: "To be grateful is a character and not a feeling."
          This is an excellent point. This reminds me of this quote:

          “Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
          Watch your words, for they become actions.
          Watch your actions, for they become habits.
          Watch your habits, for they become character.
          Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

          Being grateful is a habit, an attitude which is a part of character.

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