What is 'Gratitude'?
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Why is 'Gratitude' important?
With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. To help us understand the importance of gratitude- let us reflect on what the world would feel like without it. How can we enjoy our blessings to the best potential without truly appreciating them? Why is it that even though some of us may have all that many can only dream of- food, shelter, clothing, love, family, health, wealth , we still continue to look for happiness and find it extremely difficult to cope with ‘loss.’ ? Why do those who have their basic needs met and much more than this- continue to suffer with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems? On the other hand how is it possible that when we are less fortunate than others in terms of worldly provision- we are still able to be at peace within ourselves with so little in comparison to those with more worldly provision? What is it that gets us through the emotional, mental and spiritual struggle of ‘loss’ in the physical sense?
Gratitude as a concept is relative, and is infinite. It has no boundaries. Things could always be better, and things could always be worse. In this world of the perception of opposites, by using our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds, humans are able to use reflection and experience to be able to make comparisons and better understand the importance of gratitude and be more able to relate to it and incorporate it into their day to day lives. The more grateful we become, the less we ‘suffer.’ This can help us to take responsibility about our own suffering in that we have the ability to control it through our level of gratitude. Through gratitude, suffering no longer becomes reliant or dependent on external causes in this physical world- but as a ‘state’ that we ourselves choose to be in. It may not eradicate the physical pain that we experience, but with patience and endurance and gratitude- it can help us to ‘let go’ of the need to be in total control of our lives while also taking responsibility for it. Gratitude can help to ‘release’ and ‘free’ us from greed, envy, and corruption both on an individual and universal level.
From an Abrahamic perspective, in this worldly life, some of us are given more of worldly possessions, health, children, and freedom than others, and these are a ‘test’ in this worldly life for both ourselves and for others who have the ability to perceive- to be able to relate to and do something about (according to their ability) our experiences and blessings or lack thereof. Let us ask- how would we have the ability to be grateful for shelter if we could not understand and reflect on the concept of homelessness? How would we be grateful for our food and clean water if there was no starving child or person in the world either now or in history that had to travel for miles just to be able to drink from a dirty source of water? How can we be grateful for our loved ones being present in our lives and how can we truly cherish them if there weren’t some of us who had lost their loved ones who we could relate to? The fact that these opposites exist, or have once existed either in our own lives or in the lives of other human beings, helps us to be able to show ‘gratitude’ by making a comparison of our present experiences and blessings to either our past experiences and blessings- or the lives and blessings and experiences of others in the present or past.
Abrahamic Scripture invites mankind to be 'grateful' to God and to be grateful to his or her parents. But one may ask- But why does God want or 'need' our gratitude? As we gain knowledge and understanding we see that God does not need gratitude- He is 'Free from need.' He wants us to become grateful so that it is ourselves that can benefit from it. It is in fact mankind that requires gratitude, as we are not free of need - unlike Him- and we are not 'all-self-sufficient'- unlike Him. His request for gratitude comes from love and mercy and not out of need.
How can 'Gratitude' help us?
Gratitude is a key concept and attribute that we can incorporate into our lives in order to be truly ‘happy.’ Gratitude helps us to see the glass as ‘half full’ rather than ‘half empty. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. When we ourselves feel ‘grateful’- with this comes a feeling of inner satisfaction and peace.
Gratitude can help us build a better relationship with our Creator- The Source of all Provision, The One who has given us ‘Life’ and the ‘Freedom to Believe and worship.’ Man can sometimes ‘forget’ or take for granted the blessings he or she has been given- for ‘life.’ Let us give thanks for having eyes with which to see, ears with which to hear, hearts with which to understand, intellect with which to seek Truth through knowledge and wisdom. The more we are grateful for our lives, our ability to perceive, our health, our ability to work and be self-sufficient, our loved ones- children, parents, family and friends- the more humble our hearts become. The more humble our hearts become towards our Creator, the softer they become and more likely we are to feel ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ for Him and towards others. The more love we feel for Our Creator, the more likely we become to sacrifice of what we have for His Cause, as a way of showing our gratitude for our blessings. The more we love others, the more likely it is we will feel that urge and need to help others by sharing with them our blessings for which we are grateful for, and want for them what we want for ourselves. We often find that our level of kindness is proportionate to our level of gratitude. For why would we feel the urge to share of our blessings with those who need it more than we do- if we ourselves are not convinced that we have more than we need?
Gratitude can help to release us from greed. The more grateful we are, and the more we realise that happiness is not found in worldly riches but more in righteousness and spiritual peace, the less likely we are to be ‘envious’ of those who have more of worldly gain. The less we envy, the less we will be driven in our lives by seeking to have ‘more’ of worldly riches beyond our needs. The more of us as humanity that can take responsibility and seek a road to gratitude, the more peaceful and harmonious our relationships and world can become. The less our leaders put emphasis on materialistic wealth and profit, the more time and energy they can invest into helping us all to better our relationships.
Gratitude can also help us to get through the day to day challenges we all face, and hardships in our lives that we feel compelled to deal with. Gratitude helps us to deal and cope better through times of ‘Loss.’ When we ‘lose’ something that meant something to us, gratitude can help us to overcome a feeling of ‘despair’ and ‘suffering’ and help to turn negative emotions into positive ones. Through having this mind-set, we become more able to learn and reflect through what some might consider to be a ‘negative’ experience, to gain ‘wisdom’ which we can then incorporate into our lives and the lives of others in the present and the future- turning it into something ‘positive.’ Therefore gratitude can help us to ‘grow’ spiritually through experiencing ‘loss’ in the physical sense. Gratitude is also a major part of mental well-being and can help us to heal from symptoms of depression, and anxiety.
The more we compare our blessings to those who have less in the physical sense, rather than those who have more- the more we are reminded of the injustice and oppression and corruption in the world that has contributed to suffering. There is enough in this world to feed everyone. The more we remind ourselves of the imbalance that is present in the world and be grateful for our blessings, the more likely we are to take responsibility and do something about it according to our abilities. When we see others ‘suffering’ through physical loss, and accept the possibility that this might happen to us or our loved ones, just this possibility can help us to grow compassion in our hearts to those individuals. This compassion and love is a driving factor for humanity and is what helps us to establish peace and justice in the world.
The Abrahamic Scriptures encourage us to be ‘grateful’ to our Creator- To God- Who created us and gave to us out of His Loving Kindness. They also encourage us to be grateful to our parents. The parent –child relationship is an important concept we can reflect on to help us realise the importance of gratitude towards our Creator. Let us ask ourselves- why is it we want gratitude from our children? Is it because we want to be able to establish a better relationship with them?-Perhaps then this is a reason it is so important that we show gratitude to Our Creator, The Source of All-existence is so that we too can establish a better relationship with Him? And why does He want us to establish a better relationship with Him? -Because the better and stronger and more peaceful our relationship is with our Creator, the better our relationships will be with one another. Without the Source of the concepts of love, truth, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, respect, humility, gratitude etc how can we establish peace and harmony within ourselves and in our relationships on both an individual and global level- what then would be the point of creation?
How Can 'Gratitude' help others?
When gratitude comes with compassion and love for others, these concepts help us to want for others what we want for ourselves, and with this comes a ‘desire’ to ‘share’ of our blessings with those who are less fortunate in the worldly physical sense as well as the spiritual sense. The more we share beyond our needs with those who are less fortunate in wealth, health and lives- the more 'balanced' this world will become, and the better it will be for our spiritual and therefore physical, emotional and mental well-being.
When we show gratitude to those who show us kindness by thanking them, or returning a favour, or in any way that seems reasonable- it allows others to feel 'valued' for their efforts and makes it more likely that they will continue their acts of kindness- if the act of kindness was done with an expectation of return. Those who do good without expectation of return- for the sake of God, and to show gratitude to Him- will not expect even a 'thank you' and if a person is unable to return a favour or a kindness- it will not put them off continuing to be kind and generous. ( see Kindness)
If more of us encouraged one another to be grateful to 'God'- The Source of all provision- instead of one another, and if all those who 'gave' what they give to help others did so in order to show gratitude to their Creator, without expectation of return from the recipient- imagine what kind of world this would be? People would not get upset with one another for not returning a favour, and mankind would see 'sharing' beyond our needs as a 'duty' and way of showing gratitude to their creator and as a way of showing respect to all life. By letting go of the need for others to show us gratitude for what we do for them- we would be 'freeing' them from feeling 'in debt' to us, because our deeds would be truly altruistic in nature and more like an act of charity. And imagine a world where all those who give to help others do so out of love for their Creator, and love for one another and because they are grateful for their blessings- while all those who receive kindness endeavour to show gratitude to God by also sharing their provision with those worse off in the physical sense- and to those who showed them kindness to the best of their abilities. How much happier and more blessed would we all feel?
We often teach our children that 'sharing is caring' and teach them to say 'thank you' and show gratitude and respect to us and everyone else for everything we do for them- But let us reflect- why do we want them to grow up knowing it is best to share with others? Why is it that we want them to be grateful? Are we not like them in the eyes of our Creator? Do we practice what we preach? How much more likely is it that our children will grow to be kind and sharing and grateful to us if we show gratitude to our Creator who provides for us and to our parents who shared of their provision with us?
How can we be more grateful?
Some of us may believe that what we have in this physical world 'belongs' to us and that it is our 'right' for that provision. We may believe that they are self- sufficient and 'worthy' of that provision and therefore be less grateful for it. However let us reflect on the concept of 'provision.' What is 'Provision'? Provision is a flowing concept. What belongs to us in this physical world that did not belong to others before us? What do we take with us to our graves? Are we truly self-sufficient or is everything we have because it has been provided for us either directly or indirectly? Is anything that we think we own of land, property, wealth, children, our bodies- truly ours? are they everlasting? Are we in control of them or is there a Higher Existence that can take it all away from us in an instant?
From an Abrahamic perspective- we all 'belong' to God- and to Him we return. We are merely spiritual beings that exist in a physical form and all provision is from Him either directly or indirectly through others who act as vessels for this flow of His Provision. He provides for those who provide for us. Everything our parents do for us, is because of 'The Source of All Provision.' They provide for us, because they have been provided for. Everything that is 'good' that we do for our children and our loved ones and anything that we share out of love and gratitude- is because we too have been provided for.
1) Through humility and asking our Creator to help us be more grateful for His blessings.
2) Instead of comparing our blessings with those who may apparently have more in the physical sense, if we compare ourselves to those who have ‘apparently’ less- it can help us to feel more grateful for our blessings.
3)Through experiencing loss and gain and comparing and reflecting on the experience of both.
4)Through sharing our experiences of 'loss' with each other, and 'listening' and learning from each other.
5)Through establishing a discipline of gratitude through speech and manners e.g. thanking God each morning and evening for the blessing of life and its opportunity, or remembering to say 'thank you' to others when they do an act of kindness for us.
6) Through reflection and mindfulness and 'empathy' for others through their times of 'loss.'
7) Through acts of charity.
8) Prayer for others.
9) Fasting. Sacrificing provision of food and water for a period of time can help us grow 'empathy' for those who are less fortunate than we are, and help us to be more grateful for our basic provisions when we have them.
(Above writing is based on the reflections of Dr Lale Tuncer)
Scripture quotes on 'Gratitude:'
'... And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents- his mother conceived him in feebleness upon feebleness, and his weaning was in two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents; to Me is the Destiny. Quran 31:14
‘…If anyone desires a reward in this life, We shall give it to him; and if anyone desires a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give it to him. And swiftly shall We reward those that (serve us with) gratitude.’ Quran 3:145
‘…Anyone who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul…’ Quran 31:12
'..Do you not see that the ships sail in the ocean by the grace of God, that He may show you of some of His glories. Verily there are signs in this for those who are constant and give thanks.' Quran 31:31
‘I will praise God’s Name in Song and Glorify Him with thanksgiving.’ Psalm 69:30
‘If you are grateful, I would certainly give you more; and if you are ungrateful, My chastisement is truly severe.’ Quran 14:7
‘While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. Then he said:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David. For he said, ‘Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’
‘My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’
‘The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt.’ 1 Kings 8:14-21
‘Why should God punish you if you have thanked Him and have believed in Him. And God is Ever All-Appreciative (of good), All-Knowing.’ Quran 4:147
‘Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.’ Psalm 147:7
'It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are in ships and they sail with them by a good wind and they rejoice therein, there comes a storm wind and the waves come upon them from everywhere and they assume that they are surrounded, supplicating God, sincere to Him in religion, "If You should save us from this, we will surely be among the thankful." But when He saves them, at once they commit injustice upon the earth without right. O mankind, your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do.' Quran 10:22-23
‘I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: You have given me wisdom and power, You have made known to me what we asked of You, You have made known to us the dream of the king.’ Daniel 2:23
‘And whatever of blessings and good things you have, it is from God.’ Quran 16:53
“We bestowed wisdom on Luqman: ‘Show gratitude to God. Anyone who is grateful does so to profit his own soul: but whoever is ungrateful verily God is free of all wants worthy of praise.’” Quran 31:12
‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Matthew 11:25–27
“Then when (Solomon)) saw it placed before him [referring to the throne of the Queen of Sheba], he said: ‘This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his own self, and whoever is ungrateful, (he is ungrateful only for the loss of his own self). Certainly! My Lord is Rich (Free of all wants), Bountiful.’” Quran 27: 40
‘I will give thanks to You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all Your Wonderful Deeds.’ Psalm 9:1
‘He (Solomon) said: “My Lord! Inspire and guide me so that I may thank You for Your favour which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and so that I may act righteously in a manner that will please You; and include me (out of Your mercy) among Your righteous servants.”’ Quran 27:19
‘And We have enjoined upon man concerning his parents- his mother conceived him in feebleness upon feebleness, and his weaning was in two seasons. Give thanks to Me and to your parents; to Me is the Destiny.’ Quran 31:14
‘With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; His Love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the Foundation of the House of the Lord was laid.’ Ezra 3:11
'The offspring of those whom we bore with Noah; surely he was a grateful servant of God.' Quran 17:13
‘I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.’ Psalm 7:17
‘I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.’ Psalm 35:18
‘Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation/ Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the Great King Above all gods.’ Psalm 95:1-3
‘Enter His Gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His Name. For the Lord is Good and His Love endures Forever; His Faithfulness continues through all generations.’ Psalm 100:4-5
‘Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His Love endures Forever.’ Psalm 106:1
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his Unfailing Love and His wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. Psalm 107:21-22
‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.’ Psalm 118:1
‘Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”’ Hebrews 12:28-29
‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30
‘..took the seven loaves and the fish, and He gave thanks, broke them, and kept on giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.’ Matthew 15:36
‘And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’ Matthew 6:7–8