When Good Emotions Go Bad—Thankfulness vs. Gratitude

The topic his month was sent to us as:  “Thankfulness/gratitude – anything along those lines, anything you want to do with it.”  It may only be me, but I see a subtle difference between thankfulness and gratitude.  For me, thankfulness is the feeling of peace and joy I get when I recognize all the good things in my life.  It’s a big, loose, open wash of contentment.  Gratitude is a similar emotion, but it’s aimed at the specific person who provided whatever it is I’m thankful for.  And don’t get me wrong—there are many wonderful people who’ve earned my gratitude, and I give it to them in full measure.  But that’s another word that attaches to gratitude—measure.  I feel gratitude in varying amounts, depending on the size of the thing I’m grateful for.  And (being a writer) this makes me think of all the different ways I can use gratitude to create, not peace and joy, but conflict for my characters.

What may seem like a big deal to the giver may be deemed smaller by the receiver, resulting in hurt feelings when the giver doesn’t get the gratitude they think they’ve earned.  And what does the giver do about that?  If they nag the receiver to acknowledge all they’ve done, how quickly does gratitude turn to resentment?  If your giver likes to manipulate people, do they use gratitude as a lever?  Maybe even to the point where people reject their “gifts,” because there are so many emotional strings attached?  Sounds to me like the oft rejected giver (with the proper psychotic twist) might even be driven to murder the ungrateful.  After the first murder, they might even start punishing all the “ungrateful” one after the other.  (Who says proper middle-aged aunt Hazel can’t be a serial killer?)

Good emotions gone bad can make for wonderful character conflicts.  Off-hand I can’t think of any way thankfulness could be turned to the dark side—probably because it’s more or less contained in the person who feels it.  But gratitude is aimed at another person…and almost anything that involves more than one person can get mucked up.  So what other “good” emotions have we seen writers turn to the bad?  Love?  Patriotism?  Compassion?  Have your characters ever started out on that well-paved road, and ended in a bad place?

Hilari Bell writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—plenty of scope for all kinds of emotions to go bad!  Loyalty is the one that gets twisted up in Thief’s War, which will be released on Feb. 27th!



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