by Richard C. Bayer, Ph.D.
We should all learn gratitude if we want to be genuinely happy. Gratitude is most certainly a virtue; and a virtue is a positive habit of character that helps one to act in a reasonable and constructive way.
The full exercise of this virtue involves three steps. One first recognizes the need for gratitude as a response to a favor; one then should express gratitude in word; finally one should express gratitude in deed. In this way gratitude comes to full fruition and brings no small amount of pleasure to all parties concerned!
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. -Mark Twain
Recognition of the Need for Gratitude
Humility is a virtue integral to gratitude. We cannot recognize the need for gratitude without it. People who are puffed up with their own accomplishments and who do not see how dependent they are on other people and (economic) systems which have favored them are rarely grateful. They are blind to the ways in which they have been favored, perhaps beyond what they deserve. Therefore, the vice of pride is the death of humility.
In his classic work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, argues that people (even as economic agents) who don’t feel gratitude are cheating themselves out of happiness. “Failing to feel grateful to those who came before is such a corrosive notion, it must account at some level for part of our bad feelings about the present. The solution —a rebirth of thankfulness— is in our self-interest. … For us not to feel grateful is treacherous selfishness.”
Gratitude in Word
Gratitude is also a form of courtesy, which is mindful of how others have been helpful, and reciprocates in word. We have all felt the annoyance or even outright pain when people fail to verbalize gratitude for something significant we have done for them. This is not only ingratitude, it is also rudeness. Think about your friends or co-workers whom you have helped without receiving a word of gratitude for your good deeds. This is painful indeed. Also think about this: you can enhance the good reputation of those who do good deeds when you speak a kind word about them to others! Hence, expressions of gratitude bring further rewards.
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, argued that those who don’t feel gratitude are cheating themselves out of happiness.
Gratitude in Deed
Gratitude for things large and small should also be repaid by appropriate actions. There are many such occasions in the world of work. People who want to benefit from having a “team of advisors” —(a recommended technique for getting advice from those more senior than you to move along in your career) should be careful to express gratitude with deeds. Do you simply take from people? If you do not give back and show gratitude, even by helping those less fortunate than you, you risk proving Mark Twain right in his analysis of the difference between a dog and a man.
Gratitude for Life in General
According to gratitude guru Gregg Easterbrook, author of The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, “Those who describe themselves as being thankful to others, or to God, or to “Creation in general” have more vitality, suffer less stress and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression. Well, aren’t they the lucky ones? Grateful people are less materialistic, less concerned with status, less controlling and arrogant…than the population at large.”
Beyond gratitude for specific things, there is a second type of gratitude. Let’s call it gratitude for life in general. For those who believe in God, Allah, or some source of being itself, that deity, as the Source of life, is the object of this gratefulness. This is a personality trait characterized by happiness for gifts (s)he has received. It is a positive attitude that can produce a buoyant personality. The attitude is not simply grateful for some specific things, but for life in general.
This gratitude for being or reality in general can also mean being grateful for what one does not have! Since it assumes that that basic reality (or God) is essentially benevolent, it assumes there are good reasons for not having things as well.
Thankful people have more vitality, less stress, and fewer episodes of depression.
Gratitude for being also requires humility, since it recognizes the gifts given by God Him/Her self. Pride—here meaning the opposite of humility—makes the recognition of the gifts impossible. The self-made person does not understand the gifts he has received, and therefore is blind to the need for gratitude. In this context, gratitude is also often expressed in a special word, which is called prayer.
Gratitude for being also plays itself out in good deeds. It brings a person to do good deeds to others because of the sense of gratitude to God. The good things from God are passed on to another.