The Burden of Gratitude

To my kids-

How do you show gratitude?

A simple thank you? With your time? With a gift? Do you pay it forward? Do you view gratitude as a debt, or obligation? Do you view gratitude as an opportunity, or a lifestyle? Do you have to feel grateful to be gracious, or is a matter of habitual practice?

When my cousin Andrew died I set out to make living a life of gratitude a priority. When our friends and family lifted us through the near-death of Myles, I became overwhelmed at the prospect that I’d never be able to even the score, and I made gratitude a burden. It’s taken me a couple months to realize that nobody was ever interested in what we could offer back to them. They were good to us for the sake of goodness.

I think we go through enough that life conditions us to learn to eventually navigate grief and loss. Miraculous blessings like the one we’ve been fortunate enough to live through are rare. I’m not sure there’s a textbook way to prepare for (or process) this type of good fortune.

Realizing all that makes me much more comfortable with the idea that I might be screwing this whole gratitude thing up somehow.

I guess what I’m trying to say is perpetual gratitude is hard. As much as I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be grateful, I worry constantly that it won’t be enough. It’s led me to sympathize with how hard it can be to be a kid sometimes.

As parents, we often react to you doing things like putting holes in your brand new jeans, or bending the antennae on the remote control car you just took out of the box with some version of “this is how you repay me?” It’s possible that we drill into you from an early age that our generosity is contingent on how you reacted to our last act of parental benevolence. I worry that in our disappointment over the inevitable ruin of material items in the hands of careless and care-free rascals, we betray one of the most important values we hope to instill in you- empathy for the welfare of others.

If you withhold charity, love, kindness, or anything else from those who aren’t grateful to receive it, you let the welfare of others take a backseat to self-satisfaction.

If you take anything from this, I hope it’s that the burden of gratitude, whether it be your own, or measuring someone else’s, is an unnecessary one. Be good to others for the sake of goodness. Understand that others are often good to you for the sake of goodness. I’ll do my part to try keep from inserting the idea of conditions and debt when it comes us taking care of your needs.

Just maybe do us a favor as well and ease up on tearing holes in your jeans? They’re expensive.




  1. So true, I always try and level things up when people help me out (even though I know they don’t necessarily want that). You’re so right, some things can’t be levelled and people just want to be good to you because it feels right. A good thing to reflect on with children 🙂

  2. This is beautiful and you are so right. It’s a good lesson for everyone. Show gratitude for the sake of it and not because you are pressured into it. Love it!

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