Do we realize that every pounding of our heart, every breath we breathe and every step we take is a gift from God? Every sunrise or sunset we have the good fortune to enjoy and every sound we hear is a gift for which we have done nothing to deserve. Oh, to experience the morning breeze on our face, to witness the fluttering of a hummingbird as it extracts the nectar from one flower and then another, or to hear the murmur of a babbling brook as it slides gently and lazily over the twist and turns of rocks is unmerited favor. Gifts, upon gifts freely given to us.
To be sincerely grateful seems difficult to us. We bow our head and give thanks for our food, we are grateful when the job we wanted comes through, or we praise the Lord when the biopsy indicates the tumor was benign. These are the times when gratefulness flows freely. However, it is incredibly difficult to give thanks when we do not receive the things for which we have so faithfully prayed. Yet we are instructed to give thanks in every situation and to rejoice always, (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This means not only when the situation turns out in our favor, but also when doing so seems absolutely ridiculous and futile.
We often take for granted the multitude of things we receive, which are not obtained by our own effort, but are given to us at the discretional favor of another. Only when something goes wrong, do we realize that our very life is dependent on things we have taken for granted; the care of a physician, the protection of our police force or our freedom maintain by the sacrifice of others. As individuals and as a nation, we have been blessed beyond measure. Today we stand as one of the wealthiest, most prosperous and powerful nations in the world. Yet, we have come to believe that our prosperity is solely the result of our great wisdom and hard work. We sing “God Bless America” with a great deal of enthusiasm, but often without a thought of the sacrifice of others or of God as the source of our blessings.
Gratitude has been replaced by ingratitude. A sense of entitlement has been created in which individual rights are to be respected, without any obligation or responsibility to anyone else. In such an atmosphere, being grateful for what we receive is a foreign concept. Children and young adults resent, criticize and are disrespectful to parents when they fail to deliver what is perceived as their rights and privileges. No thought is given to the concept of an obligation to parents and society as a whole.
Robert Emmons in his article on Morality and Philosophy, September 18, 2012 quoted Roger Scruton as saying, “A spirit of ingratitude corrodes human relationships and becomes epidemic within a culture when entitlements and rights are prioritized over duties and obligations… Is it any wonder then, that the biggest fear that parents now have for their children is a sense of entitlement and the resentment produced when life fails to deliver what their children think they are entitled to?”
Robert Emmons in the same article on Morality and Philosophy writes: “Ingratitude is a vice that represents a profound moral failure, a defect of character… Where gratitude is appropriate, even mandatory, being ungrateful is a sign or symptom of lack of socialization, whether the inability to appreciate what others have done for you or, worse, the grudging resentment of one’s own vulnerability and the refusal to admit one’s debt to others.”
It seems quite clear that taking for granted the expression of love and care that God and others share with us, has a detrimental effect on the individual and society as a whole. Without word our ingratitude says, “it is my right and privilege”, I’m entitled to what I have received”, “Life owes me…” or “You owe me”. But if we are entitled to what we receive, then it is not a gift at all, but something we have earned by our own efforts. A gift presupposes that I have done nothing to receive it, but rather it is an expression of the kindness of the giver and in my giving thanks I not only bless the giver but myself as well.
Is there any benefit to being thankful? If so, what? What do we learn in the process of being thankful?
Elodia Flynn L.C.S.W.
Founder, Walking Worthy
Part 1 of a two-part series
i Kruse, Elliot, Chancellor, Joseph, M. Ruberton, Peter, and Sonja Lyubomirsky: An Upward Spiral Between Gratitude and Humility.
iv Press-Enterprise Editorial. Published: Nov. 25, 2015 Updated: 4:12 p.m. “Roots of gratitude found in humility”