Gratitude and Religion

Today we continue our exploration of gratitude, and take a look at how many of the world’s great religions view it.

While they have many differing viewpoints, one subject that nearly every religion on Earth agrees on is the importance of gratitude. In Islam it is called shukr. Christians often speak of thanksgiving or thankfulness. In Hebrew hakarat ha’tov means “recognizing the good.” The Buddhist word in Pali is katannuta, while Hindus place a high value on appreciating things done for them while not expecting gratitude for things they do for others.

Since they share a common background and history, it is not surprising that Judaism and Christianity have very similar views on the idea of gratitude. Hebrew scriptures have many examples of people expressing gratitude to God. The Psalms are full of these. Jews have many prayers and blessings called berakhot. These are formal prayers recited at certain times, usually giving thanks to God for some blessing or for being allowed to take part in a ceremony. The overall object of the berakhot is to recognize God as the source of all things, even what we may think of as bad things at the time.

In Christianity, gratitude has been called “the heart of the gospel.” The Jewish view of God as the source of all things is carried directly over into Christianity. This awareness of all things flowing to us from God generates the feeling of gratitude to God for everything in our lives. Even things we view as being a trial or a negative circumstance are to be viewed with gratitude, as there is some good to be had from everything, even if we are never made aware of what it is.

One old story tells of a young man who captured a beautiful horse and brought it home to his father. All of the old man’s neighbors told him how happy he should be that his son presented him with such a wonderful animal. Then, when the horse threw the son and broke his leg, they all told him how terrible it was and that he must be cursed. However, soon after this soldiers entered the village and took away all of the able-bodied young men to serve in the army, leaving the son because of his broken leg. The old man wasn’t swayed by his neighbors’ injunctions to feel one way or the other, and the apparent misfortune of his son’s broken leg actually led to the greater good fortune of him not being dragged off to war.

In the Bible, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This is something that most people find difficult at first, but with time we learn that our limited viewpoint makes us unable to see all of the elements of cause and effect in our lives. We trust that there is good to be had from every situation, and we give thanks for it.

Thank you for joining me today in our continued exploration of gratitude. Tomorrow we will take a closer look at the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu views.

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