Thanksgiving: When Gratitude Is In Short Supply

There are times when the only triumph within reach is survival.


Public expressions of gratitude are de rigueur in America: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to…” is one of the first lines of any public pronouncement: to serve the public, to play on this professional sports team, and so on.

In other words, giving thanks, as with many other virtues, has been depreciated by media-driven over-exposure and virtue-signaling.

Sincere gratitude is a good thing. Marcus Aurelius devoted the entire first chapter of his
Meditations to expressing his heartfelt gratitude to everyone who taught him core values and shared their experiential wisdom with him.

But if you happen to awaken and discover you’ve been transmogrified into a six-foot cockroach, gratitude doesn’t flow very freely. This is the plot of Franz Kafka’s famous story The Metamorphosis.

Glamorous Hardship–that experienced by extreme nature photographers, celebrities, etc.–offers opportunities for expressions of gratitude: I want to thank my fans for their support during this time, it was dicey outrunning the avalanche, but I’m grateful I got the images, and so on.

Unglamorous Hardship–the kind most of us experience–is less conducive to gratitude: I’m grateful that my business collapsed, I’m grateful I had to quit my job to take care of aging parents /in-laws, etc.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a repulsive, grotesque six-foot cockroach–well, actually, not so much. I’d rather have the run-of-the-mill Unglamorous Hardships of chronic illness, having to drop everything to help an injured loved one, bankruptcy, burnout, and so on.

There are times when the only triumph within reach is survival– the Triumph of Survival. To have dodged an endless volley of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to have endured an endless full-court press of misfortune and survive–this is a triumph worthy of gratitude.

In my own life, these periods tend to last a biblical seven years each–seven years in which the hits keep coming, respite is brief before yet another life crisis comes ashore and life shrinks down to the day-by-day goal of survival. Everything is a struggle, and virtually every project disappoints or fails. Success boils down to surviving this hit and picking oneself up to absorb the next one.

This is why the Stoics valued gratitude so highly. There are eras of misfortune and failure in which maintaining high expectations only increase our suffering and self-pity. Better to need little and expect the exhaustion of good fortune to continue, and to understand that gratitude is best savored in very small portions.

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” Marcus Aurelius

“The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it – either gratefully better than or bitterly worse than something else that you alone choose.” Marcus Aurelius

The best of Thanksgiving wishes to you and your loved ones.


My new book is now available at a 10% discount ($8.95 ebook, $18 print):

Self-Reliance in the 21st Century

Read the first chapter for free (PDF)

Read excerpts of all three chapters

Podcast with Richard Bonugli: Self Reliance in the 21st Century
(43 min)

My recent books:

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases originated via links to Amazon products on this site.

The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me
(Novel) print $10.95,
Kindle $6.95

Read an excerpt for free

When You Can’t Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal

$18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook;

Read the first section for free (PDF)

Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States

(Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook)

Read Chapter One for free (PDF)

A Hacker’s Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet

(Kindle $8.95, print $20,


Read the first section for free (PDF)

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World

(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook)

Read the first section for free (PDF)

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake
$4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print);
read the first chapters
for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained
$6.95 Kindle, $15 print)

Read the first section for free

a $1/month patron of my work via

Subscribe to my Substack for free


NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email
remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

Thank you, Gary S. ($5/month), for your marvelously generous subscription
to this site — I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Thank you, Wayne K. ($50), for your outrageously generous contribution
to this site — I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.


Thank you, Tim L. ($50), for your splendidly generous contribution
to this site — I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Thank you, Amy C. ($52), for your superbly generous contribution
to this site — I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *