Thankfulness Expressed in Action
No one knows what’s in your heart until you tell them
“The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted — and we should never take for granted — are all the work of others who went before us. And to be indifferent to that isn’t just to be ignorant, it’s to be rude. And ingratitude is a shabby failing.” — David McCullough, 2005
Do you ever experience an inner monologue? I frequently do, along with an estimated 30 to 50 percent of people.
One of those monologues is thinking about my feelings for others: how I love my family, how I cherish a friendship, how I appreciate the people who are kind to me.
In those moments, I count myself extraordinarily lucky to be surrounded by such people. My heart feels full.
But those are feelings that, unless expressed out loud to those people, are experienced only in my head and in my heart.
If we want to make gratitude felt by others, it means that first we need to take time to reflect on what matters to us. And second, it’s only when we do something about it that it turns into appreciation.
William George Jordan recognized this in 1902:
“Gratitude is thankfulness expressed in action. It is the instinctive radiation of justice, giving new life and energy to the individual from whom it emanates. It is the heart’s recognition of kindness that the lips cannot repay. Gratitude never counts its payments. It realizes that no debt of kindness can ever be outlawed, ever be cancelled, ever paid in full. Gratitude ever feels the insignificance of its instalments [sic]; ingratitude the nothingness of the debt. Gratitude is the flowering of a seed of kindness; ingratitude is the dead inactivity of a seed dropped on a stone.
That is, if we choose not to act on our feelings, it’s the same as if we aren’t grateful at all.
“Man should not be an automatic gas-machine, cleverly contrived to release a given quantity of illumination under the stimulus of a nickel. He should be like the great sun itself which ever radiates light, warmth, life and power, because it cannot help doing so, because these qualities fill the heart of the sun, and for it to have them means that it must give them constantly. Let the sunlight of our sympathy, tenderness, love, appreciation, influence and kindness ever go out from us as a glow to brighten and hearten others. But do not let us ever spoil it all by going through life constantly collecting receipts, as vouchers, to stick on the file of our self-approval.”
What you think and say and do, today, tomorrow, and every day, is a reflection of who you are and what you stand for.
Cicero called gratitude the greatest virtue and “the parent of all others,” meaning that it’s something we hold deep within ourselves. And as a virtue, it is expressed in how we choose to live our lives.
But that last phrase of Jordan’s — “constantly collecting receipts” — perfectly illustrates how some people approach gratitude: thinking they’ll get something in return.
“The gratitude of most men is but a secret desire of receiving greater benefits.” — François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Instead of transactions, if we try to lead with our values, we’ll improve the world around us.
“Let us conceive of gratitude in its largest, most beautiful sense, that if we receive any kindness we are debtor, not merely to one man, but to the whole world. As we are each day indebted to thousands for the comforts, joys, consolations, and blessings of life, let us realize that it is only by kindness to all that we can begin to repay the debt to one, begin to make gratitude the atmosphere of all our living and a constant expression in outward acts, rather than in mere thoughts.
“Let us see the awful cowardice and the injustice of ingratitude, not to take it too seriously in others, not to condemn it too severely, but merely to banish it forever from our own lives, and to make every hour of our living the radiation of the sweetness of gratitude.”
Ingratitude is indeed a shabby failing.
We can do better.
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