Living Fully, Living Gratefully: Why You Might Be Hesitant When It Comes to Gratitude

By Mark D. Roberts

March 4, 2020

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints.

Colossians 1:3-4 (NRSV)


For some of us, gratitude seems to come easily. For others, not so much. I expect a lack of gratitude is sometimes a matter of inattention. We’re so busy rushing from one thing to another that we don’t slow down to attend to our blessings. If you can relate to this – and I know I can – then making time to pay attention may very well help you develop a posture of gratitude (on this posture, see yesterday’s devotion).

But others struggle to be grateful for different reasons. Some of these reasons are laid out in the work of Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on gratitude. In his article “Five Myths about Gratitude” Emmons explains:

In fact, gratitude can be very difficult because it requires that you recognize your dependence on others, and that’s not always positive. You have to humble yourself, in the sense that you have to become a good receiver of others’ support and generosity. That can be very hard—most people are better givers than receivers.

What’s more, feelings of gratitude can sometimes stir up related feelings of indebtedness and obligation, . . . If I am grateful for something you provided to me, I have to take care of that thing—I might even have to reciprocate at some appropriate time in the future. That type of indebtedness or obligation can be perceived very negatively—it can cause people real discomfort.

If you’re uncomfortable with humility, dependence, indebtedness, and obligation, then you’ll surely struggle with being grateful, even to God.

Emmons adds other insights in “What Gets in the Way of Gratitude?”:

People who are ungrateful tend to be characterized by an excessive sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval. Narcissists reject the ties that bind people into relationships of reciprocity.

Entitlement is at the core of narcissism. This attitude says, “Life owes me something” or “People owe me something” or “I deserve this.” . . . Entitlement and self-absorption are massive impediments to gratitude.

The more you think you’re entitled to good things in life, the less you’re going to feel or express gratitude. If you think God owes you, then you won’t be inclined to thank him—but will be quick to complain when God doesn’t give you what you believe you deserve.

As I consider my own gratitude or lack thereof, I don’t think I am overcome by a sense of entitlement. When I look at God’s gifts to me, I am often blown away by his graciousness. I have not received what I deserve. I’ve received far better. But I will confess to having a harder time with feeling dependent, even upon God. (I realize this isn’t logical, but I’m just being honest here.) I like feeling as if I can control my own destiny, as if I can solve my problems with my own ingenuity and effort. I sometimes assume that if I only work hard enough and work smart enough, I can guarantee positive results. So my tendency toward self-reliance can get in the way of my gratitude to God.

All of us are wired differently, of course. Your hesitations might be quite different from mine. Or they might be similar. Let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.

Something to Think About:

If you sometimes have a hard time with gratitude, why?

Do you ever struggle with the things Emmons describes in his articles?

Positively, what helps you to be grateful to God?

Something to Do:

If you can relate to any of the impediments to gratitude outline by Emmons, even a little bit, take time to reflect on these. Talk with God about them. Confess what needs to be confessed. Ask the Lord to help you grow in gratitude.


Gracious God, sometimes it’s hard for us to be grateful. We confess that we can take your good gifts for granted. We might not even pause to acknowledge them. Forgive us.

It may be that we struggle with gratitude because it’s hard for us to feel dependent, even on you. Forgive us for our yearning for independence.

Or, maybe we believe that we’re entitled to good things in life. Forgive us for our self-centeredness.

O Lord, help us to grow in gratitude. May we accept our dependence on you and your grace. May we rejoice in your goodness to us. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
From an Attitude of Ingratitude to Gratitude

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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