I’m a bit late in writing this, actually about a week and a half late, but it’s been running through my mind for a bit and Thanksgiving got me thinking even more about it. It may not be very coherent at all either, but here is a bunch of thoughts on gratitude that I have been mulling around in my mind as of late.
Many great men have put gratitude at the top of the list as far as virtue goes. Cicero said that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” And Aesop had similar things to say as well. It is definitely a great attitude that we rarely see anymore these days, unless it is acted out of politeness.
Yet we have a holiday completely dedicated to it, or at least I thought we did. The other day when I was home for the break, I heard a little girl running to her mom excitedly saying, “It’s almost Turkey Day!” It took me a while to realize that she meant it was almost Thanksgiving Day….. “Turkey Day”? Perhaps I’m a bit to skeptical of what we name things, but I must join with Ravi Zacharias’ in disbelief that our culture has replaced a wonderful attitude for a plate of food. We continually replace wonderful holidays with our own materialistic approach – and the fatality here is gratitude.
G.K. Chesterton says that gratitude is the highest form of human thought, and that it is “happiness doubled by wonder.” I couldn’t agree with him more. It is a state of mind in which one is overwhelmed that such blessings would be bestowed so freely. And ironically, gratitude comes from the same word for “freedom” (notice the Spanish word “gratis”).
The best thing about gratitude is that it shows humility. Gratitude is perhaps the greatest form of humility and thus the ground for all other virtues. Often the one who is most grateful is the one who can never repay what he’s been given. His only response can be to say “thank-you” – and even that cannot suffice to express his heart. Charles Colton aptly said, “No metaphysician ever felt the deficiency of language so much as the grateful.” Words cannot fully express gratitude.
Yet we hear so little of gratitude these days. We of all people have so much to be thankful for, and yet we often only think about it once a year during a holiday expressly meant for it (or at least that’s how it used to be). H. U. Westermayer said, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” How much more should we give thanks for what we do have? Look at the epistles of Paul: he gives thanks for something in every one. Look at the dozens of Psalms dedicated solely to thanksgiving. Where is ours?
We find ourselves with so much, constantly getting new things, and yet we are so often discontented and unhappy (myself included). Where is happiness? Perhaps we are looking for the wrong thing. Ravi Zacharias says that “gratitude will bring the heart through much.” Maybe the better question is: Where is gratitude? Find that, and we will find happiness; perhaps even “doubled with wonder.”
It seems proper to end this note with a reference to Thanksgiving even in this holiday season of Christmas…
“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”
— G.K. Chesterton
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
— William Ward