Question: How can one be thankful for what he has?

Details: Many religions, philosophies and self-development lectures advocate people to become grateful for what they already have so that they can live in happiness. But this seems impossible:

  1. we could either (A) consider that our gifts are part of us and we are entitled to have them, or, (B) consider that these gifts are not part of us
  2. if A, we won't be grateful because there will be nothing to be grateful to have
  3. if B, they are extras to us and thanks to chance we have them.

But (B) is dreadful: if we are not entitled to have them, then we can lose them.

How can one be thankful for the fear of loss?. This "Be grateful for what you have" is really an invitation to an ultimate dread.

  • The thing is that the current status is dependent on the past and, therefore, things could be different. That's the argument. Further counter-argumentation would be determinism and unintentionality of fatem
    – rus9384
    Jul 28, 2018 at 21:48
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    I think there's some pretty big slippage between being thankful for the things we have and being thankful for the fear of loss. Even if it's true the objects are loseable can't the fundamental object of the thankfulness be the currently having them rather than the fear of loss ???
    – virmaior
    Jul 28, 2018 at 22:39
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    To be aware of having something is to be aware of the possibility of losing it (not having it), but I think you're overly deflating to get an equivalence and then re-inflating to make it seem bad.
    – virmaior
    Jul 28, 2018 at 23:16
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    On the contrary. A thing that I have by chance or coincidence is a pure fact about me. I cannot escape a fact (i.e. lose it) but it is not needed. The boredom is that I cannot find itility in what I have by chance. On the other hand, things we are entitled to have are exactly things we do not have enough by fact; even we do have them they behave elusively and we need them to possess more completely. And the dread is an intuition that we don't need to need such things, the entitledness is is not guaranteed.
    – ttnphns
    Jul 29, 2018 at 9:31
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    “What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can't move, with no hope of rescue. Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn't been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won't be troubling you much longer.” - Douglas Adams, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 29, 2018 at 0:16

4 Answers 4


You divide what we have - the goods that we have - into may be called internal goods - A (good looks, health, a sky-high IQ, superb mathematical ability) and external ones - B - (money, a good job, a happy marriage or friendship).

  1. We don't deserve internal goods and are not entitled to them, we are simply lucky to be born with them and retain them. However, they didn't emerge from nowhere. Can't you be thankful - grateful - to your parents or guardians for procreating and rearing you ? Your mathematical ability was merely nascent until it was developed by education. Do you feel no gratitude to your teachers ? Are you really entitled to your genetically produced good looks ? Desert and entitlement don't come into it. The same holds good for all other internal goods.

  2. If we turn now to external goods, it may not be merely owing to chance that you have them. Some are genuinely the outcome of work and desert. It isn't by chance that one becomes shrewd and experienced in a job; it takes time, experience and effort. A Nobel Laureate in physics doesn't just chance to produce a powerful new theory and the acclaim that comes with it.

  3. Some external goods (B) do come to us by pure good fortune - by chance and without desert and entitlement. 'But (B) is dreadful: if we are not entitled to have them, then we can lose them.' But we can lose anything, (A) or (B). You can lose your nice job (B) through downsizing - you can equally lose your mathematical ability (A) through a cerebral haemorrhage.


You can be thankful for what you have right now. There's no guarantee that it will continue. I have, right now, things I'm thankful for. If I lose everything in the next minute (most likely cause would be a stroke, in my case), that doesn't mean I didn't have all those things.

Also, there's things that you can be thankful for that you can do without. I can be thankful for snuggling my wife while eating dinner and watching Babylon 5 on DVD. That doesn't mean I'm going to be devastated on evenings when she's out with her other friends.


In situation (B), you have some good things and you can see that a lot of people don't have them. For example, you have abilities that are weak in other people. That means you can do some things better than others.

In my religion, Islam, these good things that God gives you are "Nemat" (نعمت). When you use these things in the right way (the way that aims you to God; the best way of the life), you are thankful about them and God will give you higher and better things. When you don't use them correctly and waste these things that God gives you, he will take back them.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link. If you have a source that goes into this perspective in more detail that would give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! Sep 27, 2018 at 17:20
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    While this answer is an enlightening description of your beliefs, it doesn't seem to address the underlying "paradox" the OP would like addressed.
    – Onyz
    Sep 27, 2018 at 17:35
  • I think you can't prove somethings out of religion... for example how can you write about ethics out of religion? Thankfulness is something like that... Sep 27, 2018 at 18:11
  • Atheists have their own rules. They can have empathy, accept notion of rights, etc. I don't think one can't write about ethics outside of religion. But existence of God is unprovable, right. It's all on belief.
    – rus9384
    Sep 27, 2018 at 19:56

It seems that you have identified a dilemma that puts strict atheism on trial.

I agree with you that being thankful is nonsense under (A) that what we have is no-more-and-no-less than our entitlement.

Under (B), you acknowledge that what you have was not caused by you, and will not last. For what it's worth, I think it would be difficult to deny this. Then aren't you afraid that what's inevitable is imminent?

Under strict atheism, yes: I'm afraid that what's inevitable is imminent, and so I really can't find a positive feeling about things I have that I didn't cause or won't have forever. I'm frozen: being thankful is the last thing on my mind.

Without strict atheism, perhaps not: somehow, beneficence has provided me things that help me, and without knowing anything else about that beneficence, Yes: thank you, universe. I really enjoyed this hot pizza (or swim at the beach or hug with my child or whatever). I don't know if you, beneficence, can hear me or even if "you" are a "you", but I want "you" to know that I would like more, if that's possible. Thanks.

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