Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Psychology of Gratitude in Al-Hamd

To follow up on the excerpt from Hillman's "The Thought of the Heart," it may be useful to ponder some of the ideas mentioned in the Introduction by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, editors of an anthology on "The Psychology of Gratitude":

" A number of contemporary trends have emerged that have helped to make this a propitious time for a volume on gratitude. First, the positive psychology movement (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) has directed attention toward human strengths and virtues - those inner traits and psychological processes that most cultures, philosophies, and religions have commended as qualities that fit people for living in the world. Gratitude is a virtue, the possession of which enables a person to live well, and therefore must receive a hearing in any comprehensive treatment of the topic. The positive psychology movement has also called increased attention to pleasant emotional states or to what Ben Ze'ev (2000) has referred to as the "sweetest emotions": happiness, joy, love, curiosity, hope, and gratitude. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer (1967) wrote, "In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich" (p. 370). Psychologists who have aligned themselves with positive psychology are quite interested in those psychological propensities that lead to a rich life, and several contributors to this volume maintain that gratitude is one of those propensities.

Second, there is a renewed interest among social scientists in people's religious and spiritual lives. The roots of gratitude can be seen in many of the world's religious traditions. Thus, interest in personal manifestations of religion and spirituality may transport the scientist into the realm of gratitude. In the great monotheistic religions of the world, the concept of gratitude permeates texts, prayers, and teachings. The traditional doctrine of God portrays God as the ultimate giver. Upon recognition of God's outpourings of favor, humans respond appropriately with grateful affect, and gratitude is one of the most common emotions that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam seek to evoke and sustain in believers. The Hebrew Bible is replete with the motif that man owes God gratitude for life, health, and sustenance. There are numerous thanksgiving psalms and other prayers in which the person or the community that is praying pours forth expressions of gratitude. In one of the earliest psychological studies of religion, Leuba (1912) characterized gratitude as a religious emotion and a distinguishing mark of religious experience.

Even though gratitude has a clear religious connotation, a distinction can be made between transpersonal gratitude and theistic gratitude. Transpersonal gratitude may be gratefulness to God, or to a higher power, but may also be directed toward the cosmos more generally (Nakhnikian, 1961). It is the gratitude one feels when contemplating a starry sky or a majestic mountain peak. Such a vast thankfulness, Nakhnikian contends, cannot be directed toward a person or even a supernatural agent and occurs in the absence of a belief that a favor has been intentionally conferred upon a person by a benefactor. The spiritual quality of gratitude was aptly conveyed by Streng (1989): "In this attitude people recognize that they are connected to each other in a mysterious and miraculous way that is not fully determined by physical forces, but is part of a wider, or transcendent context" (p.5).

A third factor that makes this a propitious time for gratitude is the resurgent interest in virtue ethics, a subfield of moral philosophy (Hursthouse, 1999; Taylor, 2002). Philosophers have counted gratitude among the most important of the virtues, and as a necessary ingredient for the moral personality. Viewed through the lens of virtue ethics, gratitude is a purely person-to-person phenomena, apart from any reference to the divine. Ingratitude, on the other hand, is seen as a profound moral failure." (2004,pp. 6-7).

~ Excerpted from "The Psychology of Gratitude" Edited by Emmons & McCullough