Gratitude is not a feeling or an act. Gratitude needs to be a virtue and an attitude. Philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all virtues.” It is a thankfulness for what we “have” as opposed to looking at what we “don’t have?” God gave us what we need to live the life He has in mind for us. If we are not 6’ tall or have an IQ of 150, it is because God has other plans for us.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
A woman Zen master ‘Sono’ taught one very simple method of enlightenment. She advised everyone who came to her to adopt an affirmation to be said many times a day, under all conditions. The affirmation was, “Thank you for everything. I have no complaint whatsoever.” Tradition tells us that everyone who practiced Sono’s mantra found peace and healing. Sono knew the way to profound peace and joy was through gratitude.
I serve on my college’s football booster committee and we recently held our Senior ‘final huddle.’ Less than half of the Seniors attended, creating in my eyes – a lack of gratitude. I also struggle with the constant battle we have with the College’s administration. As opposed to a feeling of gratitude towards our efforts, there exists somewhat of an adversarial relationship. Gratitude and acrimony cannot co-exist in a relationship.
Studies have linked gratitude to better physical health, a longer life and increased job satisfaction. Grateful people tend to have lower blood pressure, improved immunity, healthier hearts and are more resilient. They’re better equipped to manage stress and they experience fewer toxic emotions, like resentment and envy. Showing a little gratitude is the simplest, yet most effective way to boost morale and promote a healthy culture in a team or work environment. Studies also show cooperative and altruistic behavior spreads from person to person. A simple “thank you” towards someone is likely to inspire that person to thank other people. Gratitude fosters positive emotions, like excitement and excitement is an optimal emotion for peak performance. With appreciation and gratitude, both the giver and the receiver benefit.
Elton John’s timeless hit, Your Song, is a simple telling of someone that the world is a better place with their presence:
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world
Gratitude is like a muscle, the more one uses it the stronger it becomes. Also like a muscle, stressing causes growth. We should be thankful for the struggles that challenge us and build resiliency. Looking through my prior blogs I find that gratitude has a presence, stated or unstated, in many of them – “Being versus Doing;” “The ‘anti-Thanksgiving’”; It is a Privilege. Being grateful in life has a more profound influence when we focus on being present.
In 1863, Abe Lincoln said: “We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”
We live in a nation where everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness. When that pursuit is through the accumulation of “things,” society becomes self-absorbed, not grateful. That lack of gratitude can be contagious, passing from one generation to the next. When a family member is presented a flag at a military funeral, the words “On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service” are spoken. It is said that a grateful nation never forgets; have we?
A well-known instance of ingratitude is found in Luke’s story of The Ten Lepers. Jesus heals ten lepers of their physical disease. Pronounced clean of their contagious condition and no longer social outcasts, they get their old lives back. However, only one returned to express thanksgiving for being healed. Knowing full well that only one would come back thankful Jesus asked, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”’ (Luke 17: 17 -19). Biblical scholars note that by “faith” Jesus could also have meant thankfulness, as in, “Your gratitude has saved you.” Were the others ungrateful or just forgetful? Given back their dignity, they could have been in a hurry to return to their families and old lives.
Do we give proper thanks to God for the miraculous blessings He has given us to enjoy every day? Our health, sight, hearing, even simply having someone who cares about us are gifts. Fr. Mike Schmitz says giving thanks is not only good, polite and a thoughtful gesture; giving thanks is necessary. We begin Mass by saying “It is right and just” to give God thanks. The priest continues by saying: “It is our duty and salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks.” Our duty and our salvation! We proclaim this every week, but do we mean it?
As Christians we can express our gratitude to God in two ways: worship and service. The Greek root word for ‘Eucharist’ means thankfulness. Gratitude is a driving force for a life of service. Let me serve God by serving others; let me give what I have received.
As we become aware of the gift of gratitude, life becomes rich. Having a posture of gratitude – not just at Thanksgiving, or before meals, or when something good happens in life – but living a life of gratitude, is maybe the key to experiencing the abundant life God wants for us.