What is Gratitude?
‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.’Cicero
Gratitude is a concept that is often discussed, a concept that as such often lacks the mystery and allure of others when it comes to living a purposeful and meaningful life. Though by no means it is less important.
Gratitude is about affirming and appreciating the goodness in ones own life. The fortunes that you have in life. And it is also important to note that gratitude is also about realizing that the source of this good fortune, lies at least partially outside yourself.
People in life often have occasional fleeting feelings of gratitude. But, it is not a concept that they fully understand the significance and importance of. They know it from a technical standpoint, but it is hardly something they feel in their bones and their very essence of being.
The aim of this article is to dissect and try to understand the virtue of gratitude. How to develop it from within, the potential difficulties in developing it as well as to highlight its importance, not just for those around you, but also your own soul.
The Reverse of Gratitude.
‘Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more?’Roy T. Bennett
As with many things, when starting to discuss and define a topic. It is often helpful to discuss its opposite which I shall also do here, by discussing the reverse of gratitude. The reverse of it being ingratitude, but how does it manifest and impact the world? Be it to those on the receiving end of it, or those that display it.
A great deal of people understand how it can feel to be on the receiving end of ingratitude. How it feels for their hard work and efforts to go unnoticed. Most people want others to see the good in them, to see their worth, so it can cause great pain when this good is ignored. This pain can lead to bitterness and resentment, they may ask why bother aiding others if they are not noticed, or worse cast aside due to it?
However it is also important to look at the impact of ingratitude on the person displaying it. Perhaps it might even give you some sympathy to those who are unable to express such. Those who cannot feel and express gratitude are not able to see the positives as easily in their lives, only the negatives and what they do not have in life.
As such they are unable to truly appreciate goodness, beauty, joy and love. As they instead focus on what could be improved or be better, or how it is somehow still not enough. But if you cannot appreciate what you already have in life, will anything ever be enough to sate you? Or are you more likely to be forever chasing the next big thing in the hopes that it will finally be what you need to feel complete?
If you are not able to feel and develop a sense of gratitude in life, it will never be as colorful as it may otherwise be. It will damage your relationships and it will prevent you ever seeing the spark of joy in another when you acknowledge their inner goodness. It will also leave you lost looking to finally have enough to be satisfied in life, without ever being able to appreciate the moment and what you already have.
How to Develop Gratitude from Within
“Happiness does not consist in things themselves but in the relish we have of them.”Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Now that I have outlined the dangers of what can occur if you are unable to feel and express gratitude, how can you work to develop and foster it in your own life? First of all, I would not say that it is an easy task. Developing this virtue, as with all others requires a consistent effort and it can take a lot of practice for it to become something that is second nature.
It requires you to slow down in life, slowing down enough to give yourself time to notice the goodness both in others and the world around you. To truly be present in the moment. If you are so consumed with the next task, without giving any moment for pause or reflection, this tunnel vision may prevent you from being able to see the beauty in life.
Often it is also much to easy to get distracted, even if you notice something to be grateful for, something may pop up, you might get distracted from properly feeling and expressing gratitude. As such, it is important to put aside time to be able to reflect on what in life you are fortunate for, to be able to properly savor the goodness in others, to truly appreciate it from deep within.
It might also take time to get proficient at noticing the good things others do, or have done for you. If it is not something you are used to looking for, it may take time to recognize it and properly acknowledge it. But practice makes perfect, and the more that you practice the easier it will be to see and appreciate the positive aspects of those around you.
Often it can be all to easy to obsess and be drawn to the dark and negative corners of life, to the point where it can become all to easy to miss the Joy and Beauty also associated with life. You must take the time to practice looking for the Beauty of the Beast, to focus on looking for the good aspects of life even while still being aware of the negative.
This can be very difficult in this day and age with the constant news cycle of outrage after outrage, day after day. Potentially then it might be an idea to unplug for some time while you begin working on this all important virtue.. After all with all of the constant tragedies shown in the news, with rarely any good news shown, it is hardly any wonder why so many people are deeply jaded.
Another obstacle can be the ease of growing adapted and used to the positive things around us. After a while it is all to easy to become accustomed to what’s around you, while they may initially give you a rush of joy, satisfaction and thankfulness, eventually it is very easy to no longer notice it. It takes effort to keep remembering the things that are positive around you, to stay thankful for what you have and cherish the qualities of those who have been around you for a long time.
One and arguably the most destructive obstacles, is that of envy. It can often be difficult to be content with what you have, when you are focused on what the person next to you has. Envy destroys gratitude completely, and it is something that can even consume you. But when you feel the sensation of envy, it is important to remember that there are often problems in other peoples lives that you cannot see on the surface or the mask they display to the world, even with physical possessions there may be something they still lack from within.
Expressing Gratitude to Those Around You.
“He who acknowledges a kindness has it still, and he who has a grateful sense of it has requited it.”Cicero
Gratitude however is not just a virtue that you feel from within, it is also one that needs to be expressed to the world around you. True gratitude is not just the fleeting feeling of thankfulness, but also an action.
It is an action as for it to have its full effect, you need to act on the feeling. You need to be able to say thanks and express it to those around you. The impact of this can be great on lives around you, as so often people go though their lives without ever receiving thanks for their work. It can often mean the world to others to see that their work is appreciated and respected. It can make their lives feel worth it, it can give them encouragement to continue displaying positive attributes to the world around them, benefiting them and also likely you in the long term.
All if takes is a simple “Thank you” a phrase that is very easy to say, yet is often not said enough. When you notice something somebody does that is positive or benefits you, thank them for it. A simple saying, but one which can have a profound effect. It can start a chain of gratitude, where the person you thank is more likely to return the favor or thank others. Bringing more joy and appreciation to those around you.
A thank you letter, or email can also be extremely effective. Especially as it creates a token of appreciation that someone can look upon when they feel down and despondent. It can transform a quick, and often easily forgotten thank you into something permanent for the receiver to look back on. I would say it is even better if these sorts of things are handwritten, as handwriting always adds a personal touch, but even a quick text is a very good start indeed.
Expressing gratitude shows those around you that you care. They might think you care previously, but it is hard to know for certain without unless it is properly expressed. It shows that you respect the other person, and overall the expression of sincere gratitude can be the agent of great change.
Overall gratitude has great transformative power. To you and those surrounding you. It allows you to open your eyes and see the beauty of the sometimes terrifying world around you. It allows you to be at peace with how things are, not chasing endlessly after the next bit of short term gratification.
It allows others to know that there efforts are not in vain, and that there continued hard work means something. Giving them motivation to continue in their struggles. And it is quite something to see just how deeply a simple act of gratitude can impact those around you, it can even bring grown men to tears in some situations.
And more importantly, gratitude acts as a barrier against the darkness of envy and ingratitude. It allows you to truly appreciate what you have, and how fortunate you are to live in a world with heating and electricity, even if their might still be struggles. Gratitude will go a long way to prevent you becoming bitter and jaded, states of mind that only consume, not just you but those around you.
Instead, showing gratitude will give to both you and those around you, making every day single day that much brighter.