• Faye

Thank you - your gift is truly appreciated...

Christmas has come and gone, and one thing that most of us feel is thankful for those that thought of you during this season. But sometimes simply saying thank you doesn't feel enough.

I mean, I have a desire to do something in return. To do thanks. To give thanks. Give things. Give thoughts. Give love. So gratitude becomes the gift, creating a cycle of giving and receiving, the endless waterfall. Filling up and spilling over...perhaps not even to the giver, but to someone else who crosses our path. It is the simple 'pay it forward' method.

For gratitude is more than a pleasant feeling; it is also motivating. Gratitude serves as a key link between receiving and giving: It moves recipients to share and increase the very good they have received. Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving, and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept of our social interactions.

Yet gratitude's benefits are rarely discussed these days; indeed, in contemporary American society, we've come to overlook, dismiss, or even disparage the significance of gratitude.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we lack a sophisticated discourse for gratitude because we are out of practice. The only time we give it much thought is during the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas! On the other hand, we tend to scrutinize anger, resentment, happiness, and romance.

It seems that we as a society think that we are our own creators and that our lives are ours to do with as we please. We tend to take things for granted; assuming that we are totally responsible for all the good that comes our way. After all, we have earned it. We deserve it, right? A scene from The Simpsons captures this mentality: When asked to say grace at the family dinner table, Bart Simpson says: "Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing."

In one sense, of course, Bart is right. The Simpson family did earn their own money. But on another level, he is missing the big picture. The grateful person senses that much goodness happens independently of his actions or even in spite of himself. Gratitude simply implies humility. A recognition that we could not be who we are or where we are in life without the contributions of others. How many family members, friends, strangers, and all those who have come before us have made our daily lives easier and our existence freer, more comfortable, and even possible? It is mind boggling to even consider.

So why is gratitude good? For two main reasons, I think. First, gratitude strengthens social ties. It cultivates an individual’s sense of interconnectedness. A second reason supporting the power of gratitude is that gratitude increases one’s sense of personal worth. When we experience gratitude, we understand that another person wishes us well, and in turn, we feel loved and cared for. If someone has incurred a personal cost by helping me out, then how can I not conclude that I have value in that person’s eye?

It might be this link that explains why gratitude can be a powerful antidote to a depressed view of life. One of the reasons gratitude makes us happier is that it forces us to abandon a belief that may accompany severe depression—that the world is devoid of goodness, love, and kindness, and is nothing but randomness and cruelty. By recognizing patterns of benevolence, the depressed person may change his or her self-perception (“I guess I’m not such a loser after all”). By feeling grateful, we are acknowledging that someone, somewhere, is being kind to us. And therefore, we can see not just that we are worthy of kindness, but that kindness indeed exists in the world and, therefore, that life may be worth living.

In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.
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