What is gratitude?

Before we begin our exploration of gratitude that I mentioned yesterday, let’s take a moment to first look at the word, to see exactly what it means, so that we are all on the same page.

Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the state of being grateful : thankfulness”. Well, we sort of knew that much, didn’t we? So we find from the same source that “grateful” means, “appreciative of benefits received” and “pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated.” We see that “thankfulness” also means “conscious of benefit received”. So, after a little looking around, we can come to the agreement that “gratitude” can best be defined as a state of being conscious and appreciative of benefits received. (Those two words are in bold because that’s a point we’ll be coming back to.)

Now, that gives us a pretty good definition of the word, but it really just scratches the surface when we want to truly understand gratitude and the effect it can have in our lives. William Author Ward said, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” A true “attitude of gratitude” goes much deeper than telling Aunt Sue thanks for that lovely sweater she gave you at Christmas, or a passing sigh when the cop didn’t notice we were going a little faster than we should have been going. While these are indeed expressions of gratitude, and I don’t intend to belittle gratitude in any form, what we are really looking for is a deeper feeling. Not just a “Gee, thanks” or a “whew!” but a deeper emotional experience of the benefits all around us, every day. A progression from a superficial gratitude to a more profound feeling of being truly thankful.

Just as someone can say she loves her new shoes, she loves her cat, and she also loves her husband, our feelings of gratitude can vary along a similar range. We can be grateful when we catch all the green lights on the way to work, we can be grateful when our arms are full of groceries and someone catches a door for us, and we can also be grateful when a loved one recovers from a serious illness. Of course it is expected that we feel thankful on a deeper emotional level for the recovery than we do for the traffic lights, but the basic emotion is the same. The difference is only one of degree. Which brings us back to our definition of gratitude: a state of being conscious and appreciative of benefits received.

We need to do more than just be conscious of the goodness in our lives. Counting your blessings is great, but if you’re only counting them, that’s just bookkeeping. We need to appreciate them as well. Imagine our lives without them, just for a moment, so in the contrast we can feel thankful for them. That is where true gratitude begins.

Thanks for reading, and please be sure to join me tomorrow as we continue to explore the parent of all the virtues.

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