Leading up to the US Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been writing about what I am thankful for. Oprah Winfrey tried to incorporate this sense of thankfulness when she was pushing a “gratitude journal” a few years ago. This was a way to write down the positive things in your life, a way to count our blessings rather than constantly ennumerate our failures and shortcomings. I think it’s important to do this, at the very least once a year, if not more frequently.
So what is this gratitude thing, really?
Generally treated as a duty, but an interesting one in that the duty is not to act but to feel a certain way. Although the concept involves the idea of repayment, gratitude is not simply the just repayment of debt, for the benefactor cannot demand gratitude in the way a creditor can demand repayment. Also we should feel gratitude for things that we cannot in any meaningful sense repay, such as life (or, Aristotle argues, a training in philosophy). What is required is a feeling of love or honour for the benefactor, and deficiency in this feeling is a failing so severe as to be, in Hume‘s words, ‘of all crimes that human beings are capable of committing, the most horrid and unnatural’.
So there is a sense of duty in being grateful for the good things that come your way, but you can never demand gratitude- it is only good when it is given freely.
The interesting part about gratitude and thankfulness is that they are transparent emotions. You either feel them or you don’t, and the recipient knows immediately whether you are sincere or not. Sure, we say thanks for favors and niceities large and small- but you can tell in a moment from the intonation whether it is heartfelt or not. And it’s this giving someone your feelings as a gift in return that makes thankfulness special. It’s an acknowledgment that makes an emotional, real connection between people.
Gratitude is a wonderful gift we can give others, and sometimes it can even feel a bit weighty to accept. We may underplay our significance to others, because the acts we do for them seem effortless to us, but mean a lot to them. And that’s the thing to really remember- we dont always know how we affect others, so I try to keep Dr. Robert Brooks words in mind- “Try to ensure that others come away from interactions feeling enriched or better for the experience, not worse.”
Have a great Thanksgiving!
“Who had a big influence on you and how did that affect the direction of your life or career?“