Gratitude is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. One dictionary calls it a “state of being” while Psychology Today calls it “an emotion,” There’s really a pretty big difference between a “state of being” and an “emotion.” Emotions come and go based upon circumstances whereas a “state of being” describes one’s core or center. I realize, however, that gratitude can be either a state of being or an emotion. It really depends upon us. I can have a feeling of gratitude in response to someone’s kind action, but then the circumstance passes, and I return to being selfishly driven, oblivious to the kind actions of those around me. Or, I can wake up every morning and acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of many things and expressions I do not deserve – first and foremost God’s kind expression of grace through Jesus Christ. This daily attitude develops in me a “state of being” that affects all of my actions and attitudes all day long. I want gratitude to be a “state of being” for me. This will require several things to take place in my life and mind.
First, I must daily admit my desperate need for God. If I live a life of self-sufficiency, I will never become a grateful person. I would live as if the only person I should be grateful to would be myself. When I recognize that I am lost without God, hopeless without Christ, and clueless without His Spirit working in my life, I become more cognizant of God’s activity in and around my life. Not only am I aware of my need, but I am relieved and grateful as I constantly see ways in which God is working on my behalf.
Secondly, I must acknowledge that there are people around me every day who are doing things that benefit my life. Sometimes they do these things from a selfless motivation desiring to serve me and make my life better. Other times, they do it out of obligation because of job requirements, but nevertheless, they are still serving me in a way that benefits my life. We have a tendency to more readily recognize service from the first group of people, the selfless people, allowing gratitude to swell within us. If we really want gratitude to be a state of being, it means that we consciously look for things and ways we are benefiting from the service of others. This might lead us to notice the garbage man picking up our stinky trash, the police officer driving slowly through our neighborhood, or the co-worker who gets his work done on time. Regardless of one’s motivation, we should go out of our way to express gratitude. I have found that when I thank people for their service, the act alone causes me to be even more grateful. I heard a conversation the other day where a young man met an older man who had served in the army sometime in the past. I loved it when I heard the young guy thank his new friend for his service to his country.
Thirdly, the state of being grateful is accentuated when we give ourselves in selfless service of others. Hopefully, as we become more aware of God’s blessings on our lives and others who are serving us, we have a desire to serve others grow within us. I do think that service to others is a natural byproduct of gratitude. We realize how much we have benefited from others, and we in turn want to bless those around us. I really have found that the more I serve others, the more grateful I become.
Thanksgiving is upon us, and it offers us a time to stop and reflect upon those who have blessed our lives. God should obviously be at the top of the list. I encourage you to take some time out in the next week and make a list of things God has done and thank Him. Also make a list of ways you have benefited from the service of others, and figure out a way to communicate your gratitude – it could be an e-mail, a note, a phone call, or a visit. It could be a tangible gift or a kind word of thanks. If we do these things, we will find our state being shaped by these actions and discover gratitude to be ingrained in our core.