The Structure of Gratitude


David Brooks for The New York Times


I’m sometimes grumpier when I stay at a nice hotel. I have certain expectations about the service that’s going to be provided. I get impatient if I have to crawl around looking for a power outlet if the shower controls are unfathomable if the place considers itself too fancy to put a coffee machine in each room.

This little phenomenon shows how powerfully expectations structure our moods and emotions, none more so than the beautiful emotion of gratitude.

Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectations when it is undeserved. Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.

Most people feel grateful some of the time — after someone saves you from a mistake or brings you food during an illness. But some people seem grateful dispositionally. They seem thankful practically all of the time.

If you think that human nature is good and powerful, then you go around frustrated because the perfect society has not yet been achieved. But if you go through life believing that our reason is not that great, our individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is severely mottled, then you’re sort of amazed life has managed to be as sweet as it is. You’re grateful for all the institutions our ancestors gave us, like the Constitution and our customs, which shape us to be better than we’d otherwise be. Appreciation becomes the first political virtue and the need to perfect the gifts of others is the first political task.

Read the full length here

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