Ken's Rotary Presentation on Gratitude

Ken discusses the subtle different between gratification and gratitude and how to be proactively grateful.

Date of speech
November 26, 2002

I think one of the most important days of my life was the day I understood the difference between gratification and gratitude.

Gratification is having what you want.

Gratitude is wanting what you have. My thesis: Standard equipment on human beings is the desire for gratification. Gratitude is an acquired skill.

If I had to summarize life, it is really a voyage from gratification to gratitude – and the sooner the better.

We live in a culture that is driven by gratification-and it is at the heart of consumerism – people earnestly working to get what they don’t have.  We’ve built a powerhouse economy on consumerism and gratification.

And it has created something pretty interesting:

  • Everything is getting better – technology, variety, safety, lifestyle.
  • Everything is getting worse – degradation, pollution, poverty, disease, and depression.

Maybe it is human nature – we focus on the bad stuff and we have little sense of appreciation about the good stuff.

So I thought to myself, why is this?

Because there are two kinds of gratitude –

Reactive gratitude – Something good happens to us, and we respond with gratitude – and if we don’t, we feel guilty.  Then we feel like we need to “gin up” some gratitude – and we feel the most guilty around holidays like Thanksgiving.

The reason we can’t make ourselves feel gratitude is because whatever it is that we’re supposed to feel grateful for isn’t “perfect” enough– or once we achieve it we say “well, that wasn’t really all that great” –because nothing hits the ideal picture we have in our head of what we need to be really grateful.  

No perfect life, no perfect wife, no perfect kids, no perfect job, there’s always somebody who is richer, healthier and more together than we are.

Don’t get me wrong, it is good to react with gratitude, or to try to react with gratitude – but the process is passive.  We wait for something good enough, then react with gratitude.

In a way, it is a trap, and when others see wealth and great circumstances combined with ingratitude, they are repulsed.

Thankfully, there is another kind of gratitude that is very different –

If you take the letters of the word “reactive” and rearrange them, you can spell “creative”.

So let’s talk about “creative gratitude”.  

Creative gratitude starts with me – and it’s all about “appreciation” – appreciating the people and things around me.  Now this sounds like “reactive gratitude”unless you think differently about the word “appreciation” – and it was the key that unlocked the secret for me.

Think about the word “appreciation” as you would in financial terms – like “grow in value”.

I can learn the skill and habit of “appreciating” people, things, and experiences.

As I “appreciate” things, they have more “value” to me.  When they take on more value, I’m “grateful”– bingo: GRATITUDE.

I get to be really proactive in what I appreciate – I can increase the value and meaning of many, many things each day.  There is nothing reactive about it – it’s all proactive.

When you do this you are not waiting for anything in particular to happen – you just go on an “appreciation” mission every day.  You appreciate people, things, experiences and they instantly take on more value to you which will create gratitude.

It is a whole different way to life – and it is extremely enjoyable – especially to watch people’s reaction.  You can appreciate the smallest things – you can become a “gratitude factory”.

Our minds have difficulty holding two completely contrary emotions at once – which is why gratitude is the bedrock of a healthy attitude.

Think about it – can you be grateful and angry? Envious? Anxious? Discouraged? Sad? Annoyed? Hopeless? Cynical?

I realized reactive gratitude is not constant enough – it leaves me far too exposed to all the horrible negative emotions I just named.

I realized creative gratitude where I go around “appreciating” stuff is the key to a happy life – because it manufactures gratitude.

In life, start appreciating people and just watch them completely light up.  There is something to “appreciate” in everybody.  It’s an amazing way to live, and it’s fun.

Well, I must say, I appreciate Rotary and all of you and am grateful for the privilege to address you today.

Happy Thanksgiving.

More Speeches

Race Relations House Floor

Race Relations House Floor

Faith and Politics

Faith and Politics

Bookends for New Life Theological Seminary Graduates

Ruth encouraged the seminarians to bookend their education with prayer and the armor of God.

Bookends for New Life Theological Seminary Graduates

Ruth encouraged the seminarians to bookend their education with prayer and the armor of God.

Share with us


We’d love to hear how Ruth’s life has impacted yours. Share your Truth Story using our hashtag. Or, send us your story privately.

Contact us
Featured Resource
| View All

My leadership bio started young. In fact, my siblings said I was a "born leader". AKA "bossy!" Throughout my life, I have served in various...