Gratitude: Grow a Forest

Gratitude unexpressed is ingratitude

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” — William Arthur Ward

I've spoken before on the most important words in any language — sorry, thank you and fuck you. For now, let’s focus on ‘thank you’. This phrase settles in nicely in a growing child’s vocabulary because it is a mandatory social obligation. It’s something you say to someone who does something for/to you. On the surface, it’s accepted and expected, but is it really appreciated? Is it enough?

Digging Deep into Emotion

Emotions provide depth to expression. The feeling of gratitude is far too deep to be expressed with two simple words. You may discover on contemplating that you actually never really meant the words you spoke. Or if you did, it was merely an afterthought. Years of drilling have conditioned the words ‘thank you’ to spill out reflexively, without thought. Looking back, this absent-minded response makes you appear shallow. But this is only because the mechanical act of the expected appreciation has lost genuine significance. How does one rediscover the genuine emotion behind the words ‘thank you’?

The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” — William James

Growing Gratitude

Imagine that gratitude is a dense forest. As dense and diverse as it is, it still began with just a handful of saplings. Let’s grow our forest of gratitude with a simple list:

  • who are the people I’m grateful for?
  • why am I grateful to them?
  • what can I do to express my gratitude to them?
  • when (if ever) have I expressed my gratitude?
  • how have I expressed gratitude?
  • how often have I done so?
Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.” — Tom Hopkins

Quantifying Good Deeds

The ambiguity of emotion often results in an equally ambiguous response — sometimes intense and sometimes even unrecognized. So you may respond to a good deed done for/to you with a heartfelt response of gratitude. But more often it’s a merely mechanical obligatory social response. How do you decide if an act merits gratitude and if so, how much? The task of objectively outlining gratitude may appear to be a daunting task. We will simplify it by limiting the number of answers to each of the questions above to 3. And this is why my favorite number is 3. Not too high to appear like a gargantuan task and not so low that accomplishing it feels insignificant. Now listing the answers helps make the exercise quantifiable, thus actionable and accountable. So even if you can only think of one person, it’s a start. Before you know it, you’ll have grown a forest!

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” — Epictetus

Why a Forest?

In the landscape of man’s psyche, the desire to take is best balanced by the ability to give. And giving is a habit that is best developed by learning to give thanks. This simple habit eventually grows into the forest of gratitude. The forest thus formed offers solace and succor to the barren psyche, laid waste by the lust to take rather than give. Giving (thanks) helps you grow into a genuine and expressive human being.

Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.” — Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

If you enjoyed reading the article, thank me by clapping below, following me, providing feedback via the comments and sharing across your network. But don’t just stop there, get your list started and grow your forest!