05/27/2014 08:38 am ET Updated May 27, 2014

The Philosophers' Guide To Gratitude

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Feeling grateful about the good aspects of our lives is something we all know we should do a bit more often. And yet there’s often something curiously uncomfortable, even maddening, about being reminded to do so.

Don’t remind me to be grateful

In part, that’s because the call to be more grateful stands in deep conflict with a central drive in human nature: ambition. We know in theory that we should be grateful for what we have, but day to day, we are dominated by striving: for better relationships, working lives, communities and nations. The advocates of gratitude sound like they are recommending that we be content with how things already are. Mediocre situations could (these people seem to be saying) be so much worse. People in developed nations, irritated by the ineptitudes of their governments, should be more grateful that their politicians are not like those in Zimbabwe. Someone fed up with having a cough should be very glad they don’t have bronchitis…

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