Attitude of Gratitude
Written By: Krista Keil
"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
- William Arthur Ward
In his 1998 essay, "Gratitude and Justice," philosopher Patrick Boleyn-Fitzgerald argued that gratitude has three components: “(1) appreciation, (2) goodwill, and (3) a disposition to act in a way that flows from this appreciation and goodwill.” What then, does the expression of gratitude say about the human person? It alludes to the fact that the human person has an intrinsic drive for goodness. Do we not crave to be appreciated, valued, and noticed? These are basic human desires that can, in part, be fulfilled through giving and receiving expressions of gratitude. Gratitude then, is an indispensable virtue: it shifts our focus from inward to outward, from selfish to selfless.
It is vital that we understand the necessity of gratitude in our daily lives- for the act of being grateful is an acknowledgment of "the other." It is an admission that we accomplish little entirely on our own, and that we need others to help us along the journey. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, gratitude is not distinct from other virtues, but rather, is deeply intertwined with having a virtuous disposition. Aquinas notes that gratitude is linked with two virtues that are vital for human flourishing: humility and justice.
Humility is the recognition of the dignity of every person, including ourselves. It is the acknowledgement that we are created beings- that we as humans, are not the authors of life. When we express sincere forms of gratitude, humility is brought to the forefront by illuminating the dignity of a person and paying homage to the gifts and talents of another. Can you recall a moment in your own life when someone sincerely thanked you for something you said or did? How did this make you feel? Personally, regardless of whether I am giving or receiving gratitude- it lightens my burden. It provides a moment of human connection that I would not have had otherwise and sparks a deep sense of joy and appreciation that seemingly communicates, “I value you for being you.” This evokes powerful experiences and emotions that very naturally exemplify what it means to uphold the dignity of others.
To expand upon this, Aquinas notes that gratitude is an act of justice. He explains that "proportionate repayment belongs to justice," and the purpose of giving thanks is repayment. Therefore, "thanksgiving" by nature, acknowledges what is due to another, and in doing so, not only preserves friendship and community, but drives us towards virtuous habits. Gratitude pushes us to tangibly show our appreciation for someone or something, and teaches us to receive care from others. In its essence, gratitude has the capacity to strengthen the human person’s disposition through both giving and receiving and calls us to harness additional virtues as well.
As Thanksgiving is upon us, based on these reflections, how can you adopt an "attitude of gratitude" and express thanksgiving in a way that enhances friendship and community?