Reading: Grateful by Diana Butler Bass

I recently finished reading the book Grateful by Diana Butler Bass. She was a guest on the Faith Angle podcast and her input to that conversation intrigued me to the point of buying and reading the book

What do you think of when you hear the word grateful? Is it possible that we apply an incorrect or at least incomplete definition to this complicated word? The book takes a deep look at the word and how we as individuals and society apply and use the word and it’s associated concepts. 

The book is well thought out and very well written, though to be honest, as not someone who is academically inclined there were times when it was a bit of a slog for me. It wasn’t a particularly quick read despite clocking in at very managable 200 pages. Yet it was extremely thought provoking, challenging and an excellent all around read. I wonder if at times it was the challenge of the concepts weighing on me that slowed my progress more than anything else.

The author is very honest with her own struggles with her prior notions of gratitude, struggling to write thank you notes etc (I can certainly relate). The book came about from her discovering a survey examining American religion and spirituality that asked the question “How often do you feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness?” To her surprise an astonishing 78 percent of Americans responded by saying that they had felt strongly thankful in the last week. Feeling guilty that she wasn’t one of them, it sparked questions and research that became the book, trying to answer the questions what is gratitude and why is it so hard?

Of course in a survey, whether intentionally or not, people are include to deliver the response that they feel will present the best version of themselves, ever if it is a supposedly anonymous survey. Se takes a fascinating look at this particular phycology. 

For me, one of the most illuminating parts of the book was looking at our understanding of gratitude as a transactional / reciprocal process. Quid quo pro, you do something for me & I will do something for you. It is no great secret that much of our society is essentially built on these practices. She encourages us to move a a better practice, a pro bono practice (for the sake of the greater good) where we replace reciprocation with grace. When you give to give, not to get, you are much freer to be thankful when you yourself receive. 

Gratitude is an extremely complicated subject, just as much a choice as a feeling. To live a life of gratitude required cultivating awareness and intentionally being aware of the little things that we are thankful for, the things we take for granted, like the air we breath or the water we drink, it is a process that builds over time.  The author thankful does a wonderful job of explaining that it is ok to not be thankful for bad things for example violence and abuse are not things to be thankful for. 

Ultimately I would say that this is an excellent look at a much used, but misunderstood subject. It is eye opening and challenging and I would strongly recommend reading it, contemplating it and visiting it again, I know I intend to.


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