The transformative power of giving thanks – “Grateful” by Diana Butler Bass

By Steve Oelschlager

Stewardship Program Coordinator, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In her recent book, “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks,” Diana Butler Bass explores the topic of gratitude in a comprehensive and insightful way. She looks at distinctions between personal and public gratitude, how gratitude makes us feel emotionally versus what it inspires us to do in our ethics, and the challenge of being grateful even when our personal stories are not all upbeat and rosy.

Bass contrasts gratitude that is driven by a sense of compulsion and duty (reciprocity to discharge a debt) against gratitude for life’s many tailwinds, grace, gifts that are freely given and impossible to repay. It turns out that the transactional model of gratitude was integral to hierarchical patronage systems of ancient Egypt and Rome, where people were expected to return taxes to Pharaoh and Caesar or be ingrates deserving punishment. Who would have thought that something as honorable as gratitude could have a history of control and domination?

As far as transformation is concerned, Bass writes:

“Gratitude, at its deepest and perhaps most transformative level, is not warm feelings about what we have. Instead, gratitude is the deep ability to embrace the gift of who we are, that we are, that in the multibillion-year history of the universe each one of us has been born, can love, grows in awareness, and has a story. Life is the gift. When that mystery fills our hearts, it overwhelms us and a deep river of emotions flows forth — feelings we barely knew we were capable of holding.”

Diana Butler Bass

Author, Grateful, The Transformative Power of Giving

The book “Grateful” is an excellent resource for personal contemplation or group discussions. Watch Bass in a recent presentation on gratitude that parallels her book, part I and part II. Use this small group discussion guide as a source of questions for conversation.

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