Gratitude as a life experience, as a virtue, not as an occasional fact, is a controversial issue, because today we live in a society that, more often than not, “organizes the gift”: we live a series of festivities specially made with the aim that the people do gifts: such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. They are all festivals which, as far as I know, have no historical roots. Nothing to criticize or demonize, but people are conditioned to do something that has, more than anything else, a commercial aspect.
Furthermore, we are in a society that organizes relationships in a mechanical and functional way, in the sense that everything is aimed at an exchange: “do ut des”. I receive a service and I pay for it so I have no reason to thank because what I receive is due to me.
And again, the constant and daily emphasis is that we are increasingly a society of rights.
For these reasons the theme of gratitude finds very little space because our social life is organized in such a way that we do not owe anyone gratitude; what we have is due to us or at the most is the result of an equal exchange.
Gratitude in this context is degraded to simple courtesy.
Yet, the derivation from the Latin “re-cognoscere” makes gratitude a conscious and not superficial feeling, the result of consolidated knowledge, which results in appreciation of a gesture, an action or an attitude that bears a benefit.
The etymological root, however, does not say all the richness of what Lao-Tsè calls “the memory of the heart”. In fact, the profound and dynamic character of gratitude – as the ability to know and recognize the value of what one has received, keeping the memory of it, and creating a special relationship with those who have done good – emerges more clearly than in others in the Hebrew verb form “hodoth”. The latter expresses, first of all, giving one’s support to someone and, then, thanking. Without all of this being consumed only within the soul but it becomes an effective reality of knowledge, relationship, emotions and concrete gestures.
The first characteristic or presupposition of gratitude is that this experience can only be lived with regard to a person, one cannot have gratitude for a power, for a law. Gratitude has to do with relationships between people.
A second condition that presupposes gratitude is freedom. I do not thank you when my personal right is at stake.
A third aspect or assumption is that gratitude needs respect and the dignity of the relationship. Gratitude is not given if there is indifference, if there is a kind of concession from top to bottom, or where power is exhibited.
So, gratitude is not a transitory feeling, it is a temporal path that many sociologists call habitus or permanent disposition. Possible only to those who consciously enter into a relationship with their own history and with those who cross by living it. It is being in the mutuality of an alliance, which confirms the other in his existence and in the positivity of the gesture for which he is grateful.
Gratitude is therefore a way of being of the person, and can become a constant state of the personality, making it capable of accepting being the recipient of a free gift from someone who expects nothing in return.
The grateful subject, therefore willing to remain in a relationship, receives what is beautiful and good passes through it. And, precisely for this reason, he is a thousand miles away from the egocentric for whom everything is due, incapable of empathy and who is only at ease in a world without dialogue.
There is also a gratitude that does not arise from necessity, from the fact that someone who has done us good or was close to us, but manifests itself when a well-disposed soul perceives an opportunity to procure a joy or to illuminate someone’s life, to create a moment of beauty. Those who receive this attitude can thank him simply for having received something beautiful.
Then there are moments when you feel the need to thank someone simply for the fact that there is, that exists. It may seem a contradiction because the fact that one exists is not his merit: he is there because God created him because he made him meet us, because he put him next to us, for a thousand reasons … but there is, even if he/she didn’t do anything special.
Those who are aware recipients of unexpected gestures of gratuitousness, and are grateful for these, distance themselves from sterile narcissistic ignorance to discover the possibility of fruitful altruistic relationships.
One of the fruits of all this is the ability to better endure difficulties and joyfully achieve the objectives that we set ourselves.
Perhaps this is why psychologists consider gratitude to be closely linked to “vital satisfaction”, as it helps to shape the grateful subject, making him outgoing, open and responsible.
It is possible to educate oneself and grow in gratitude and make it become a virtue.
The first way is to cultivate the memory. The first way to be grateful is to remember. It is an awareness that is easy to lose, which often becomes evanescent because we live in a forgetful society, we are forgetful, we are full of many stimuli, we are suffocated by things and we forget to be grateful.
We educate ourselves and grow in gratitude if we try to have clear priorities in life and relationships. Without dramatizing, however, sometimes the sensitivities of others are trampled on without realizing it and with absolute superficiality and ease. This theme should also be taken up again in an educational key with children. We are very careful to educate them in good manners but we don’t educate them so much in the important virtues such as honesty, righteousness, respect.
We also know that there have been people who have helped us even occasionally in decisive moments, who have supported us in moments of loneliness or fatigue. This too must help us not only to recover the sense of gratitude but also that of the examples of our life.
Another condition for educating ourselves to gratitude consists in knowing how to give due importance to signs and words, that is, to find new and old ways to express oneself, to express gratitude. Sometimes even a little is enough. Sometimes we receive small attentions that are good for us, but that remains within us. Instead, it is good that they come out with a gesture, a word.
Ultimately, gratitude is a value and for many people, it is almost a way of life. It is the attitude of those who welcome what comes from the outside, both from others and from life, and appreciate it as a positive and good thing for their life. To thank means to express gratitude.
The ability to be grateful allows us to appreciate things, past or present, positive and good, those from which we have benefited in some way and which, therefore, have given a beautiful meaning to our existence.
Sometimes, gratitude is also the way to enrich one’s life: in fact, according to experts, the act of thanking gives energy, gives vitality, and contributes to people’s happiness. Gratitude, therefore, is also a way to increase happiness and learn to value what you have.