Self-Gratitude: Thank You to My Former Selves

I’ve been reading about gratitude again because that’s the topic of the second book in the Positive Psychology News Daily series. We’ve selected more than twenty articles. We’ve started editing. Kevin Gillespie has started drawing pictures. We’ll have it ready by Thanksgiving at the latest (cross fingers).

Earlier I posted my notes for the talk on gratitude that I gave to a Sunday School class at a local church. In particular, borrowing from some of the experts in the field, I wrote:

Cultivating Gratitude involves…

1) Acknowledging good things that happen – major and minor. Be mindful of present benefits; enhance the ability to remember positive events.

2) Recognizing the sources of goodness that are outside us. Much goodness happens to us independent of our own actions. What if we said, “Why me?” when good things happen to us?

But what if we also kept in mind gratitude that we owe our former selves?

Just to show what I mean, here are some of the things for which I can thank Kathie Sugg (baby name), Kathy Heninger (after adoption by step-father), Kathryn Heninger (chosen name at college), and even Kathryn Heninger Britton, looking back over the years.

Kathie holding Lou's ThumbI thank you, Kathie, for the picture of you holding your father’s thumb when you were tiny. That picture has created a strong sense of connection to my father who died when I was about 2 years old. It’s actually the only picture I have with both of us in it.

I thank you, Kathy, for your love of reading. You filled my head with stories of people I admire. These stories often return to me when I feel challenged. These stories remind me of duty cheerfully performed, of self-sacrifice, of courage in the face of fear, of taking the long view, of the impact of love on life.

I thank you Kathie, Kathy, Kathryn for building friendships all along the way. I have close friends from early childhood, from high school, from college from graduate school, work, child rearing and graduate school again. Thank you for being so curious about people and for exchanging the words and deeds that made lasting bonds.

Learning how to snorkel

Learning how to snorkel

Thank you for the adventures you’ve had with friends — such as the trip to Bora Bora with friend Pam to stay on friend Sue’s catamaran, making new friends of Sue’s family.


I thank you, Kathryn, for always finding something to do with your life while you tried to figured out what you wanted to DO with your life. Yes, it took about 30 years for you to find a vocation that is also an avocation. But in the meantime, you gained experience with a lot of different people, different technologies, and different business considerations.

Thank you for taking care of my body, so that I enjoy good health now in spite of 30 years with Type 1 diabetes. I know it wasn’t easy.

More than 30 years together

I also thank you for finding Edward Britton to marry and then for building up more than 30 years of shared experience with him. I don’t think you understood that marriage at my age would be even more rewarding than it was at yours. Thank both our earlier selves for all the little acts of warmth and appreciation that must have added up to more than 5-to-1 one positivity ratio between us — but who’s counting?

Thank you, also, for deciding to have children, one of life’s greatest adventures.

And so on. Who would I be if it hadn’t been for you?



Filed under Curiosity, Gratitude, Marriage

7 responses to “Self-Gratitude: Thank You to My Former Selves

  1. Kathryn,

    Your chronicle of your many selves the gratitude you pay them so much parallels my own life.

    Thank you for reminding me to thank all those former selves because they are indeed worthy of praise and gratitude.


  2. Kathryn,

    Regarding gratitude, are you aware of any studies looking at the difference between gratitude aimed at a person, and more general gratitude that isn’t aimed at anything specific (not even God or a higher power)?

    For example, I feel grateful to have clean water on tap, and for a sunny day, but it’s not aimed at anyone in particular.

    I’m wondering if it’s less effective when not aimed at a person. Any thoughts on that?

    • I second this question. I love the idea of being “happy about how things are”, or being in wonder about how many good things I have in my life. Since giving up my religious faith, however, I’ve had a tough time calling this ‘gratitude’, because I’ve always associated that word with the religious concept of being grateful “to” God. However, there isn’t really a nice one-word term for the secular equivalent. Any ideas? I’m also interested in Warren’s question about whether the directed and undirected forms of gratitude have different empirical effects.

      • I have never been religious but my wife and me do a gratitude exercise (naming 3 things we are grateful for) every day. Instead of god we are sometimes grateful for “life” itself.

        I imagine undirected forms of gratitude are harder to practice, similar to open focus meditation compared to concentrative meditation.

  3. Warren,
    Interesting question. I don’t know of research on this point, but I have come across a definition of gratitude that it is a feeling associated with receiving something beyond your own ability to provide for yourself — whether or not you know the giver. So for clean water on tap, you know that you yourself didn’t take all the steps to make it clean. In this case, there are many, many people who contributed to your benefit — some by directly contributing to your local water authority, others indirectly by making the connection between water quality and disease (like the doctor who removed the pump handle in London, thereby cutting down on incidence of cholera). Gratitude doesn’t have to be attached to a particular giver.

    As for the sunny day, perhaps there is gratitude for good fortune — where the important consideration is not so much who provided it, as the fact that you yourself did not.

    I’m looking in my copy of Thanks! by Bob Emmons for information that might answer your question. In the process, I found this statement, “One is never lacking in opportunities to be happy, according to Chesterton, because around every corner is another gift waiting to surprise us, and it will surprise us if we can achieve control over our natural tendencies to make comparisons, to take things for granted, and to feel entitled.” (p. 21). So perhaps with respect to the sunny day, gratitude comes because you know you weren’t entitled to the sunny day, but it happened anyway.


  4. Enjoyed your reading this blog. I loved the photo of you holding your dad’s thumb. How wonderful that you held it. Reminds me to hold onto my loved ones whenever I have the chance …

  5. Meditating on feelings of gratitude and connecting to the emotion of gratitude can elicit positive feelings. Focusing on gratitude toward close friends and family members often produces stronger positive feelings than focusing on gratitude for objects. Focusing on feelings of love and gratitude toward significant others can produce positive brain changes associated with happiness.

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