Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Dangers of Gratitude

Gratitude is a beautiful emotion. Almost too much so.

As I investigated my thankful mind this morning, I found hiding right behind gratitude, two not so noble  mental states.

First was aversion. When it comes down to it, gratitude is almost always linked to the realization of what life would be without that thing we are grateful for. As I linger in the appreciation of the warm shower welcoming my body, the thought arises of not having warm water, or no water at all, two possibilities with a definite tinge of unpleasantness. It is that thought that precipitates the feeling of gladness from the relief of not having to experience what one does not like.

Second state is greed. I find it a challenge to feel grateful without also becoming attached to the thing I am happy for. That's because gratitude is intimately linked to a pleasuring of the senses or the mind. Staying with the shower example, I was very well aware of my intense liking of the hot shower. I have been in situation where there was only so much heat to go around, and the water all of the sudden became cold, and I can remember the disappointment, the irritation from no longer having what felt so good.

Mindfulness is the best antidote of course, to keep gratitude in its pure state, without the taints from aversion or greed.

All of the above, very twisted, I know . . .


  1. The illustrations you are using are really good.

    This is something that I also noticed myself a while back. I made a post Gratitude vs Gratification about it. There is quite a bit in the Pali canon on both of these states.

    Gratification seems to be about desire and of course the attendant aversion and greed that accompanies it and is unending, while gratitude is much simpler.

    It is twisted the way we conflate these things. I am grateful there is practice to help untie these knots.

  2. One thing I think that helps break down some of that greed and attachment - I've certainly experienced this as well with gratitude - is to develop gratitude for things, experiences, people that you don't like, don't want, wish didn't happen or weren't around.

    Partly, this is an expression of releasing the value judgments we place on most everything. For example, I've written a lot about the challenges of my current job over the past several months. I often just want to be done with it. But on the flip side, I am grateful for the opportunity it has provided me to learn how to be less reactive, less anger driven, and more proactive and assertive in terms of expressing myself and m views.

    Beyond that, though, like you said in your post the other day, working with dying people points you back to the very basic of things - and you could even include being able to experience displeasure at cold showers as part of gratitude.

    It's a simple flip that is, of course, challenging for most of us to make.

    Thanks for bringing all this up for us readers to consider.

  3. Ditto for NellaLou.
    Noticed the same things in my mind.


  4. I was thinking about gratitude this morning as I hung the laundry out under a blue sky in the country home I live in now. I felt my heart sing. Now for me I realized this is good because my habitual mind state is to find fault. So for me I could see it as breaking of habit. To look up instead of down.

    But at the same time I had the experience that taking my joy from outside, from sensual pleasures was shaky ground. And at the same time there is nothing wrong with pleasure or gratitude but to know they are moving and changing entities. We need to have that tender heart and solid core.

  5. Thank you all for all the depth of your comments.

    Talking about gratitude :) this is what comes up for me right now, as I appreciate gift of online sangha, and ability to relate on finer, personal experiences of Dharma. I feel so much richer for it!

    PS- a bit jetlagged, and in a torpor . . . .