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Mariah's avatar

Atheists: What does it mean to you, to be thankful?

Asked by Mariah (20463 points ) December 12th, 2012

I find I’m thankful for a lot of things in life. I’m thankful that my surgeries went well, but for that I am thankful to my surgeon and the years of hard work he put in to develop those skills.

I’m thankful for other things too. For being born into a loving and reasonably well-off family, which alone makes me much luckier than most – and for this, I don’t know who to thank. Whose fault is it that I’m me and I’m not somebody else? Nobody’s, not from my atheist point of view, at least. Yet I’m thankful. Who am I thanking? What does it mean?

I guess for me, I am just appreciating that I got lucky. It’s a lesson in humility, really – recognizing that I did nothing to deserve it, that I just got lucky.

What does it mean to you?

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26 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

I thank those who deserve thanks.
If I healed from an illness, I thank the doctor. You get the idea.
As for where I was born, that is pure coincidence. And if it was not, and there was a god that chose the place, then I would not thank this god either, because it would have been the same god that chose to let the african child be born in a shithole and then die from hunger or malaria shortly after.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I am with you.
When I am served a dinner I thank the person who prepared the meal and was willing to share it with me.
I thank the doc who took care of me. (He also got thanked by the insurance company who paid him well.)
I say “Thank you” to people who say “You’re welcome” or its equivalent.

One of my pet peeves is going to a dinner at the house of a “religious” friend who always says grace. He thanks the lord for the bounty, and friendship, and blah, blah, blah, but he does not thank his wife for all the hard work she put in preparing the meal. That is what is going through my mind as I sit there, head bowed respectfully, while he proselytizes.

I always make sure to thank her.

DigitalBlue's avatar

I have a hard time understanding the question… what does my atheism have to do with being grateful? I’m thankful for a lot of things, thankful to people, thankful for my circumstances… is that… not typical? I’ve never tied thankfulness to religion, so I guess that’s throwing me off. I don’t “thank god/s,” but I still appreciate people and circumstances.

I guess, not unlike @LuckyGuy‘s perspective, I do put value in thanking people. Sort of in the cliche example, if I were in a life threatening car accident, I wouldn’t thank god/s for saving my life, I would be grateful to the EMTs and/or doctors or whoever actually did something to save me.

Seek's avatar

Of course I’m grateful for things. I just extend thanks to the people who acted toward my interests.

I don’t thank God that my surgery went well, I write cards to the nurses who took care of me, and to the doctor who used his skill to heal my illness, and to the office staff who pulled strings to get me in, even though I couldn’t pay the copayment right away.

It makes me happy that I have a son who is healthy and intelligent, but I don’t feel necessarily “thankful” for that. I was a healthy host body for him as a fetus, and I’ve worked damn hard to teach him the things he knows today.

JLeslie's avatar

It means to me appreciate the good things in my life and don’t take them for granted.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Knowing that some day, after a great struggle all evidence of belief systems that brings comfort to billions around the world will be locked up, hidden away from public view.

tinyfaery's avatar

I see no reason why being thankful is different, because of the god (or lack thereof) you believe in.

Mariah's avatar

To clarify, I guess it just occurred to me that “thank you” is usually something we say to somebody. Who is the “you” in “thank you”? To me it’s different because the religious are often thanking god. We might thank….luck? I don’t know! I was just hoping to hear some perspectives on this. I agree it’s not much different.

Thank YOU all for your answers!

thorninmud's avatar

For me, it comes down to a recognition of interdependence. I’m carried along on the shoulders of countless beings—present and past, human and non-human—who’ve contributed in some way to making my life easier. Being mindful of those deep strata of support makes me feel indebted. It makes me want to be less of a burden on the world. It makes me want to help shoulder some of the burden for others.

I think about the London design student who undertook to build an electric pop-up toaster from scratch, mining and smelting all of the metals himself, casting the plastic casing using a hollowed tree trunk, etc. His attempt to independently recreate a device that sold for £3.99 at the store anded up taking 9 months and costing thousands of pounds. It looked like this and lasted about 5 seconds after plugging it in.

It’s just too easy to forget how much we depend on others.

digitalimpression's avatar

Thank God I don’t have to ask myself this question.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@Mariah when I’m not actually thanking someone, I’m not really thanking “luck” or “god,” I think it’s just an expression in that case. Appreciating what we have doesn’t necessarily mean someone else (spiritual or otherwise) gave that to us and needs to be thanked, just appreciating good circumstances gets filed under “thankfulness” for me. But, maybe it’s an entirely different emotion altogether? Maybe we just don’t have a word for being grateful for things that there is “no one” to thank for. (This is assuming that you aren’t thanking god/s, in which case it might explain why we don’t have a different expression for that particular state.)

burntbonez's avatar

To be thankful is different from thanking someone. Thankfulness is about appreciating that which you have—most particularly life. It is about not taking things for granted. When we are thankful, we change our relationship to that which we are thankful for. We pause a moment. We remind ourselves this doesn’t have to be this way. We could be much worse off. We think that this is something worth noticing, because an attitude of thankfulness allows us to be happier about our world.

Ron_C's avatar

I am thankful to a lot of people and organizations and not one of them involves believing in an irrational being that lives in the sky and needs my money.

flutherother's avatar

I think it is a sign of how detached we have become from the natural world that we give thanks to people and organisations that give us things and forget that we are just a part of creation. If we feel thankful for medical treatment we should also feel thankful for good health and if we feel grateful for electricity we should also feel grateful for rain. Who we should be grateful to for these things I cannot say but it isn’t us.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I am not sure, as well, why this question is asked as such. My thankfulness is unconnected from my atheism…except when I’m thankful I don’t have to rely on god or words of god to denounce others, like so many do. I am glad my parents didn’t raise me with a religion.

Mariah's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I get that it’s not consciously connected, I feel there is a relationship though. Many religious people will thank God for whatever they’re happy about. We might feel that same feeling of thankfulness but it’s not directed at any entity (at times). I agree there doesn’t have to be “someone” to thank in order to feel thankful. But sometimes I feel I need to do something to earn my good fortune, to say thanks, and I don’t know how. At those times I guess I just try to pay it forward.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Mariah Well the problem is that we haven’t developed enough language around being thankful that goes beyond the god thing.

ninjacolin's avatar

Some stray thoughts, not sure what to do with them:
To use a hanger to hang a coat is to thank a hanger for its existence.
To be thankful alone in your room when there’s no one to thank, is merely to be conscious about the things you are content to have… like hangers.

Unbroken's avatar

Coming from a Christain environment I hear this a lot Thank God for this that and the other. Sometimes I say it. What am I saying that I’m happy and relieved and just merely putting a positive emphasis on my thankfullness.

I find I have all too much to be thankful for and maybe I will one day come up with a replacement word.. But until then this will do just fine.

PeppermintBiscuit's avatar

I agree that it’s a language thing. You don’t hear “thank luck” or “thank circumstance”, even if that’s your true sentiment. You hear phrases like “thank my lucky stars” or “thank god”. Maybe someday things will change.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I don’t really see the two things as mutually exclusive….

Blackberry's avatar

Dude…we’re animals that freaking exist, man. Just sitting here, typing this to you is mind blowing.

augustlan's avatar

Similar to the atheist/prayer question, I do tend to ‘send out’ my thanks, kind of to the universe. I mean, I don’t say, “Thank you, universe”, but you know what I mean. Right?

Mariah's avatar

@augustlan I do that too, but then I kinda wonder, ‘what am I doing?’

augustlan's avatar

Me, too. I have no clue. ;)

ninjacolin's avatar

Hey, sometimes I whistle out loud when no one can hear me. It’s just where the cursor of your brain happens to be at the moment, so you act on it.

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