A Short Story
The other evening James saw a beautiful sunset, but he didn’t pay much attention. Alicia thought the fall leaves looked lovely, but she didn’t do or say anything. Michael, having reached his 70th birthday, pretty much took for granted the fact that he’d never had a serious illness and was in excellent health. Mary saw that her friend, Jane, needed help, but paid no attention, even though Jane had given her a ride when she needed it just two days earlier.
I think it’s reasonable to say that none of these people (James, Alicia, Michael, and Mary) are very appreciative of the good things that have happened to them. But only one of them—Mary—could be said to have behaved ungratefully. She had received help from a friend, but then didn’t do anything to repay the favor when she had the chance to do so. If that behavior is typical of Mary, those that know her might well call her an ungrateful person. But even if it’s typical of James, Alicia, and Michael to take for granted beautiful sunsets, fall leaves, or good health, none of their friends would call them ungrateful simply because of that.
Gratitude journals have become all the rage. We’re asked to take notice of things such as our good health, pretty sights, the kindness of others, and many other things. And I think it’s good to notice them, to be appreciative of all that life has to offer. But there seems to be something special about the kind, thoughtful, and helpful actions of others that should be treated in a different way than simply being appreciative. If you do something really nice or helpful to me, and I thank you for that, but then if I have the opportunity of helping you out soon after, surely I should express my gratitude by helping you. That’s the essence of gratitude, and what makes it different from simple appreciation.
What’s So Nice About Gratitude
What’s so nice about gratitude is that it builds or strengthens connections between people. You do something nice for me, and I respond by helping you, not in some “tit for tat” way, but because I genuinely want to. As a result, you feel good about me, and if I need help in the future, you’re more likely to give it. What a lovely upward spiral of positive connections between us.
It’s good to be appreciative of all the good things that happen to us, of all the beautiful sights that we see, of all the good fortune that comes our way. But it’s even better to be truly grateful to those around us who have provided some meaningful benefit to us, to express that gratitude not only in words but in deeds, and enjoy the fact that we’ve improved someone else’s life.
And that, I think, is the essence of gratitude. Do you agree?