During the Thanksgiving season, we usually hear and read about all the blessings we should be thankful for, such as our faith, health, family, country, and freedoms. The one common denominator in these blessings is that they were all given to us as gifts.
While we contemplate the gifts we have been given, we should look for ways that we can turn our gratitude for our gifts into ways that we can share those gifts with other people.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “gratitude” as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary has a more thorough definition of gratitude:
The virtue by which a person acknowledges, interiorly and exteriorly, gifts received and seeks to make at least some return for the gift conferred. Essentially gratitude consists of an interior disposition, a grateful heart, but when genuine it tries somehow to express itself in words and deeds.
So according to Fr. Hardon, genuine gratitude
1. Is a virtue.
2. Requires that we acknowledge interiorly and exteriorly the gifts we have received.
3. Requires that we confer one or more of our gifts on others.
4. Originates interiorly within our heart.
5. Expresses itself in words and deeds.
Let’s expand on each of those points:
1. Genuine gratitude is a virtue – The great Roman philosopher, Cicero, declared that gratitude is the greatest of all the virtues and is the parent of all other virtues. While I believe that gratitude is a great virtue, I disagree with Cicero’s statement that it is the greatest of all the virtues. In my opinion, the greatest virtue is the virtue of humility, which is a necessary precursor to every other virtue. For example, before a person can practice the virtue of gratitude, they must first acknowledge and show appreciation for a gift that they received. A person who lacks humility takes credit for their own gifts and behaves as though it was their own brilliance and effort that produced their most cherished gifts.
2. Genuine gratitude requires that we acknowledge interiorly and exteriorly the gifts we have received – I already mentioned the gifts that we are frequently encouraged to acknowledge and be thankful for — our faith, health, family, country, and freedoms. However, there are other gifts that we have received from God that we should also acknowledge and be thankful for. Those gifts can be broken down into two categories.
The first category includes gifts that will remain on Earth after we die. Examples of these gifts include the air that we breathe; sunrise, blue skies, and gentle rains; flowers, butterflies, birds, and rainbows; forests, mountains, and oceans; music and laughter; clean water and wholesome food; indoor plumbing, heat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer.
The second category includes gifts that will not remain on Earth after we die. Examples of these gifts include our soul; our unique personality, experiences, and perspective; our sense of humor, enthusiasm, and positive mental attitude; our ability to sing and dance; our earthly love for others; our memory, knowledge, education, and mental acuity; our talents, skills, and capabilities; our ability to create value for others and earn an income; our material possessions, which include our money and property.
3. Genuine gratitude requires that we confer one or more of our gifts on others – While the people we come into contact with automatically benefit from the first category of gifts, they will not ordinarily benefit from the second category of gifts unless we confer (grant or bestow) our gifts upon them.
4. Genuine gratitude originates interiorly within our heart – This is a difficult one. It is impossible for gratitude to originate within us unless we have the proper attitude and interior disposition. You’ve probably heard about the importance of having an “attitude of gratitude.” The word “attitude” is defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.”
Unfortunately, the society and culture that we live in, combined with our fallen human nature, predisposes us to develop a bad attitude toward others. When we have a bad attitude toward another person, we are not inclined to share one or more of our gifts with that person.
In his book, A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life, André Comte-Sponville wrote, “Gratitude is … the opposite of regret, which is a feeling of sadness for what is, and of nostalgia, which aches for a past which is now gone.”
In her book, Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life, Mary Jane Ryan wrote, “When you are grateful, it is impossible to also be hateful, angry, or fearful.”
One of the primary reasons we don’t see much gratitude from many of the people we interact with is because of the hate, anger, fear, intolerance, bias, guilt, and regret that is promoted and encouraged by social media, television and cable networks, politicians, and many of the people who are in positions of authority and leadership.
5. Genuine gratitude expresses itself in words and deeds – In his book, Comte-Sponville also wrote, “Gratitude cannot be requested, demanded, or coerced, it can only be given. It is a gift, not an exchange.” What is it that we have to give to others when we have genuine gratitude? We have words of love, appreciation, encouragement, enthusiasm, and support, and we perform deeds that include conferring upon others our time, money, talents, skills, abilities, wisdom, and knowledge.
How often do you show genuine gratitude for the gifts that you have been blessed with?
Next week, I’m going to show you a simple daily ritual that I use that helps me to focus on showing gratitude.