The Emotion Of Gratitude Research Paper

Length: 11 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Philosophy Type: Research Paper Paper: #34730776 Related Topics: Life, Virtue Ethics, Thanksgiving, Envy
Excerpt from Research Paper :

Gratitude and Thanksgiving Good Habits for Character Development


Gratitude is a moral emotion of appreciation and thankfulness. It is considered a moral emotion because it promotes a social attitude and behavior that is deemed virtuous and positive both for one’s character and for one’s community (Buck). But why is gratitude deemed important? What value does it bring to the community or what development does it enable in the human character? Gratitude is obviously important enough in American society that the holiday of Thanksgiving was long ago set aside so that Americans could remember to express their gratitude for life’s blessings and to remember how it was that the Pilgrims came to survive their first harsh winter. However, as the modern world turns away from its traditions and embraces a new, more politically correct philosophy of life, can one say that gratitude still plays a part in one’s life or community? The answer is a resounding yes: for in spite of how the political climate changes from one generation to the next, gratitude is an ancient and universally accepted moral emotion that transcends present-day politics and enables one to conform oneself to a higher system of ethics than that derived from the PC platform of today. This paper will describe the features of gratitude that make it distinctive. It will also discuss the role it plays or should play in one’s life as one tries to live well and serve as a member of a moral community. It will finally describe the important moral and social implications of gratitude in our lives.

What it Means to Live Well and Why Gratitude is Unique

The idea of living well is a question that philosophers and teachers have addressed the world over for thousands of years. One ethical system that is as ancient as Aristotle and Confucius is the system of virtue ethics, in which it was taught in both the East and the West that the best way to live well was to live virtuously—i.e., in harmony with the virtues that enable one to develop one’s character. To develop virtuously one’s character was considered to be the best path towards happiness in this life.

Yet, today, the idea of living to develop one’s character is a concept that does not receive the level of attention it did in former ages. Krista Thomason, for example, argues that envy on her part is wrong “simply because it is morally wrong for me to feel” (37). In other words, it is wrong just because. That is the level of analysis that Thomason, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Swarthmore College, brings to a discussion of “the moral value of envy” (36). There is no discussion of the impact that behavior has on her character; character has become something that is far too subjectively discerned for anything resembling objective analysis to be conducted with respect to it. Indeed, subjective assessment is what characters the modern notion of political correctness, in which system a thing is wrong because the person with political power says it is—end of discussion.

What makes gratitude unique is that it necessitates an objective standard outside ourselves by which we can judge. If one is thankful for something there must be a reason for it. There must be something external to oneself to which a person can express thanks. Thanksgiving in and of itself is an act of demonstrating, objectively, one’s appreciation—whether it is to God, to the universe, to the past, to one’s family, to the community, or to friends. One sees the good and expresses gratitude for it.

Of course, there can still be disagreement about what is good and what is not, and even in some families or groups there may be disagreement among the members over what constitutes the good. But this does not mean that gratitude, when it is expressed, is any less real. When one perceives the good, even if one is challenged by another or the objective goodness of the thing, one can nonetheless still be gracious. Gratefulness is a show of humility, a kind of act of selflessness, in which one acknowledges that one owes a small debt of gratitude, of thanks, of appreciation, of respect to something other than oneself.

In the modern, PC world of self-righteousness, self-assertion, self-love, self-entitlement, and self-obsession, a little gratitude could go a long way to bringing communities and families back to their senses.

Thomason’s argument that people should feel envy when they see others with goods or traits that they want to possess is false from start to finish. Her argument is that the feeling of envy shows that the individual values those goods and traits that another possesses. She argues that one’s feeling of envy is appropriate because it means one does value good things and want them for oneself. One can use that feeling of envy as an impetus to develop oneself to reach goals that would allow one to obtain the goods and traits that others have.

But is this a good argument? No. It is false because when one is motivated by envy to achieve a goal, one’s motivation is inherently impure and it will taint the character of the individual who nurses it and allows it to serve as a motivation—even if the end goal—the attaining of some positive good or trait—is desirable and good in and of itself. The motive for attainment has not been good. Charity is the opposite of envy, and when one is motivated by a feeling of charity one’s entire orientation and character and disposition changes. It goes from being self-directed to being other-directed. The feeling of gratitude corresponds with the feeling of charity: it, too, is other-directed rather than self-directed. The system of virtue ethics is, in fact, all about cultivating virtues that are other-oriented. The entire concepts of community and family are ones that cannot be comprehended without being rooted in the notion of the…can be used for some good—like driving one to do better or getting another to see where he or she has gone wrong.

Gratitude reminds people that they do not have all the tools they need to be successful. Just as the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving expressed gratitude to their Native American friends for helping them to survive that year, people today show their gratitude in a similar manner. They realize that they have learned from others, or that they have been able to climb the ladder because of some support from another person down below. Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations points out that he became the man he was because of influences from his mother and father, teachers and friends. In other words, he begins his famous work with an expression of gratitude.

There is nothing like gratitude to help a person develop a proper moral and social perspective. Gratitude supplies one with the appropriate moral lens for looking at all things. Say an individual cuts in line; what does gratitude do? Gratitude thanks God that the line has become longer as it helps one better to develop his patience. Say a person is robbed at gunpoint; what does gratitude do? Gratitude thanks God that one was not killed. Say a Job-like penance is given to one; what does gratitude do? Gratitude thanks God as Job did, even as his friends ridiculed and judged and condemned.

Gratitude is the proper social guide that one can turn to as well. Whenever one is unsure of how to act, gratitude is there to take one by the hand and lead him to a loftier place. One might be tempted to lash out a friend for an unkind word or for holding an opinion that one feels to be ridiculous. Gratitude admonishes one and reminds him that this is his friend who has stood by him in the past or who has entertained him with countless hours of amusement; it is better to show that friend gratitude for his friendship than to heap scorn and self-righteousness upon him and think that these coals will get him to “see” that light one wants him to see.


Gratitude is an emotion and attitude that one should strive to cultivate as it truly does develop one’s character in a positive manner. Surely everyone can point out times in his or her own life when he or she did something offensive to another and did not mean to cause offense. But the offended party took it personally and accused the other of doing it deliberately and of being a nasty person. Undoubtedly one did not like being accused of deliberate viciousness and felt the offended party was being unjust in the judgment. Now think about how many times one judges others in a similar manner. Judge not lest ye be judged is the ancient Christian maxim that has stood the test of time. One does not benefit from making snap…

Sources Used in Documents:


Buck, Ross. "The gratitude of exchange and the gratitude of caring: A developmental-interactionist perspective of moral emotion." The psychology of gratitude (2004): 100-122.

Nussbaum, Martha. "Emotions as Judgments of Value and Importance." (2004).

Srinivasan, Amia. "The aptness of anger." Journal of Political Philosophy 26.2 (2018): 123-144.

Thomason, Krista K. "The moral value of envy." The Southern Journal of Philosophy 53.1 (2015): 36-53.

Cite this Document:

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