Grateful to Whom?

October 21, 2010

Reader: Your web site is very informative and interesting. I believe in living in gratitude and I try to practice it every day. My question is: to whom are you asking us to be grateful? God, god, gods, nature, the universe? Thank you for your help. — Danny

Answer: Dear Danny,

Thank you for your kind words about the website and for your commitment to practice gratitude. Let me turn your question around and ask: To whom are you grateful? The answer differs from person to person. One person may come from a strong religious tradition which praises God for all the gifts of this life. Another may recognize how much has been given by her ancestors or the Earth, and she may direct her gratitude to these abundant sources. Yet another may say, “I don’t know to whom I am grateful! All I know is that sometimes my life seems to overflow with a feeling of fundamental well-being, even – oddly enough – in the most difficult moments.” There is no rule book that deems one of these approaches as more valid than another.

Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon speak of turning to a Higher Power, “whatever you conceive that to be.” To understand this from a gratitude perspective, you can use the metaphor of receiving a gift. Sometimes the source is obvious. You are grateful to water for quenching your thirst. You are grateful to the golden oak for the inspiration that its beauty is to you. You are grateful to your best friend for his companionship.

But some gifts are less obvious: To whom do i owe my ability to love? To whom do i owe my very life? Throughout time these gifts have evoked in the hearts of human beings a great sense of wonder. You may even wonder why there is anything at all! If you do not already have a perspective on who the Giver of All Good Gifts is, then why not live in amazement, as you would if someone gave you a diamond but did not leave their name? Is not your very astonishment at this overwhelming, secret generosity its own form of gratefulness?

Imagine what a different world this would be even if we were just grateful to the obvious sources: If we valued and respected the Earth for her bounty! If we revered elders for their years of hard-earned experience ripening into wisdom! If we appreciated children for their refreshing insights, sheltering them as we would a rose given to us by an angel! If we could affirm ourselves for our attempts to know and understand life better! Whether or not we believe in an unseen benevolent Power, we need only look right before our eyes to get started on a journey of thanks-giving.

Kind regards,
Patricia Carlson

Patricia Campbell Carlson and Br. David Steindl-Rast contribute to A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L), dedicated to providing education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic. Visit

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