Get Your Gratitude On – For Its Own Sake

All over the country this week bloggers are holding forth on the subject of gratitude. And I’m all for gratitude, not just in November, but daily, maybe even hourly. But too often gratitude is touted not as an end in itself but because it will help you achieve some goal:  being grateful will make you happier, or improve your relationship, or make you a better manager. Practicing gratitude does have some great benefits, but the heart of gratitude is not as a means to an end.

Gratitude is not about you. Life coaches exhort their clients to keep a gratitude journal to help them feel happier and more fulfilled.  And it is true: counting your blessings will likely increase your awareness of the positive things in your life and thus make you happier. But to use gratitude as a vehicle to happiness is self-serving and unseemly. Gratitude is an expression of humility – a recognition that much has been given to you, and that, in the words of the poet Jane Kenyon, “it might have been otherwise.”

Gratitude is not a management tool. Executive coaches often counsel our clients to acknowledge and express appreciation to their subordinates as a way of reinforcing good performance and increasing positivity and productivity in the workplace. However, if acknowledgment is practiced as a management technique rather than as genuine appreciation, it becomes insincere and manipulative.

Gratitude is not comparative. We often feel aware of our good health when we visit someone sick, or appreciate the simple comfort of a roof over our heads when we see a homeless person.  However, the soul of gratitude is not: “wow, thank goodness I am not suffering like that poor fellow” (that sentiment is more akin to relief than true gratitude). There will always be people better and worse off than we are, and comparison is inevitably a losing game.  When we compare ourselves to others,  we distance ourselves from them. But gratitude acknowledges our shared humanity — that we all have our blessings and challenges — and connects us to our neighbors.

Gratitude is not passive. While gratitude is an acknowledgment of a gift, it is not mere passive reception. Gratitude is profoundly active. In gratitude, we are fully present and engaged so that we see the gifts around us through appreciative eyes and with a grateful heart. It is not enough that you feel thankful; active gratitude moves you to expression. There are a number of ways to express gratitude, the most obvious being to say “thank you.” Beyond that, active gratitude inspires (perhaps requires?) us to share.  If you have abundance, give — food, money, your time — to those less fortunate. If you are blessed with a healthy body, a fine mind, and fortunate circumstances, take action to make the world better. Gratitude doesn’t rest. Gratitude gives. 

Now get your gratitude on: Go around the table and say what you are thankful for, and then get out and share. Happy Thanksgiving!