Monday, November 30, 2009

Where Does Gratitude Come From?

In light of having recently celebrated Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about gratitude. How does it arise? When am I most grateful? Where does gratitude come from?

Gratitude is at the center of nearly every major religion. It is one of the two key duties in Islam (along with submission). In Taoism, gratitude is connected with humility. In Buddhism, gratitude is an important ingredient in compassion. In Christianity, gratitude is a key virtue. In Judaism, gratitude is at the heart of the concept of covenant.

Obviously, gratitude is at the heart of a spiritual life. So then why aren't we more grateful? I think part of the answer is that it is too easy to take things (and people) for granted. When something good happens, we often think "I deserve this," as if we are entitled to the gifts we receive. An entitlement mentality negates gratitude.

Where does gratitude come from? A wise sage whose name I can't remember once said, "Grace evokes gratitude like the voice evokes an echo." In other words, we are grateful when we get in touch with the fact that we are recipients of grace. Since grace, by definition, is unearned and undeserved, we cannot help but to be grateful when we receive it.

I am most grateful when I am most humble. When I become aware of the gifts of food, shelter, and companionship that have been bestowed upon me, and how little I deserve them, I become thankful. I once heard someone say that the most important prayer we can utter is two words: "Thank you!" Being able to say those two words and really mean them is to be grateful.

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