Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, recognizes that our cultural landscape creates obstacles to expressing thankfulness. Finding happiness by accumulating things – materialism – generally creates a sense of entitlement, a belief that we are owed our portion of happiness. Everything is a commodity, including relationships. Gratitude simply cannot survive in such an environment.
Research shows that people who are ungrateful also tend to exhibit narcissistic characteristics such as self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an over-reliance on approval and admiration. Entitlement fuels these tendencies, centering focus upon ourselves and what we believe we deserve but fail to obtain. Emmons suggests that humility is the antidote to the poison of entitlement. By turning our attention outward (and upward), we sense our interdependence upon others – we are not self-sufficient.
Ingratitude is a behavior, refusing to acknowledge a favor and therefore failing to return kindness to others. As Karl Barth said, “All sin is simply ingratitude.” Thankfulness, then, is more than a feeling and spurs us to action. Gratitude and humility expresses themselves before God and others in response to our interconnectedness with one another.