Confused by the title? A little scared? Good, that helps with the digestive process, or so I’m told. But don’t worry, purgation is sure to follow.
Given that today is Thanksgiving, you can probably guess my topic: Thankfulness.
I got to thinking about this topic due to a long time, recurring concern that I never really take meaningful time, during the big family meal on Thanksgiving Day, to talk about what I’m thankful. For example, if you were to sit down by me around the table and ask “What are you thankful for?”, I’d probably fumble and fidget around and then give you some stock, droll answer about “salvation” and “freedom.” Mind you, I don’t consider either salvation or freedom to be “droll.” If anything, I’m trying to highlight what is surely my failure to treat them other than as quick, throwaway responses. Furthermore, at the risk of painting them in your mind as bad, selfish people, I’ll tell you that my family, and my parents in particular, have raised me to think, speak, and act in ways that demonstrate an attitude of thankfulness. So, you could say, “Thanksgiving is just a day, stop being so hard on yourself.” Maybe you’re right. Still, the feeling persists, and I want to do something about it, and this post is an attempt to get at that “thing” in both immediate and habit-forming ways.
First, let’s start by defining our terms. You may have noticed that I only used the term “thankful,” or a variation of it, in the last paragraph, when I could have substituted “gratitude” or “appreciation” more or less appropriately. They’re close enough in everyday usage to merit some inclusion to see if they really do mean the same thing, or if any attempt on my part to distinguish between them is just my creating distinctions without differences. Because I know you will do this anyway, I will go ahead and quote you “chapter and verse,” the definitions of each word from Webster’s Dictionary. In alphabetical order, they are:
- a feeling of being grateful for something
- an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something
- the state of being grateful
- Webster’s defines “grateful” as being “appreciative of benefits received” or “affording pleasure or contentment” and “please by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort relieved
- conscious of benefit received
- expressive of thanks
- Webster’s defines “thanks” as “kindly or grateful thoughts” and “an expression of gratitude”
To be honest, I’m left almost more confused by the circular references, so in order to gain some clarity I’m going to arrange these words according to how I use them and in a way that makes sense to me. If you don’t like it, then go write your own article on thankfulness. (Or is it gratitude?)
I want us to picture these three terms not as being used interchangeably, but in a kind of ascending order, like a pyramid, starting at the bottom with Appreciation, moving up toward Thankfulness, and then finally reaching Gratitude.
Appreciation is, I think, largely an emotional state, a feeling. It’s that “warm fuzzy” you get when someone does something nice for you, usually just a small act of kindness. Or maybe it is not an action performed, perhaps it is the way the sun shines through your window in the morning. You can appreciate that. It’s not meaningless, but also that’s about as far as it needs to go.
Thankfulness is a level above that. You’ve gone from a feeling to some mental engagement. You’re conscious as to why that action or that experience made you feel appreciative, and you can think how you might be less better off had that thing not been given to you or happened to you.
Gratitude is, to me, the highest expression of this idea. I think our usage of the word validates this. For example, we say things like “I [do this] to demonstrate my gratitude…” After feeling, and then thinking, we’ve got to act. It could, depending upon what the situation merits, just be a verbal expression of gratitude. (Yes, we do “say thank you.” This is not an airtight argument, I’m fully aware.) But I do think that, beyond just words, true gratitude must change your behavior in some way. If it’s that important to get to that level, it should change your life, even in a small way.
Going back to the pyramid: one layer is built upon another. The lowest, largest, and probably most frequent experience, is of Appreciation. The next level up, on the foundation and feeling of appreciation, is Thankfulness. It’s smaller, not necessarily because we have less to be thankful for, but that we only have so much mental resource to devote to thankfulness in the way I’m defining it. It’s a process of choosing, and not an easy one. Finally, the pinnacle of the pyramid is Gratitude. It requires both previous levels in order to reach it, and it is by definition the smallest area in the diagram. Not everything in your life can be life-changing. If everything is, then nothing is.
Now that you’ve got a visual, I want you to do something else with it. Let it go. Or at very least don’t get too attached too it. Why? It could suggest – to an extent I do not intend – that Gratitude is a process, that you must first Appreciate, then be Thankful, in order to finally be truly Grateful. Emotion, then Reason, then Action. That is far too linear. I much prefer a holistic view of the idea of gratitude, where the lines are, not blurred, but blended. It’s an integrated approach. It’s being…
Yep, there it is. I’m pretty sure I can hear you all exhaling. (Did you even know you were holding your breath??) Ingrateful is a portmanteau, in case you’re just joining us or trying to catch up. It’s a blending of two words to make a new one, and something that I try to do as often as possible, much to the chagrin of my friends. (It’s not cathartic sighs of relief I hear from them. It’s their complete lack of surprise at what I’ve done here that is, indeed, deafening.)
But seriously, I chose that “word” for some specific reasons. First, it worked linguistically – I mean, it kind of works, right? You could maybe say it. My only other real choice was “thinkfulness,” but that seemed too easy. Second, as I outlined earlier, I think that Gratitude is the highest expression of this idea, and therefore the most appropriate choice for inclusion. It was at the top of the pyramid for a reason. (Full disclosure: if you Google “integrateful,” you will find a designer on Etsy who goes by that name, but I really and truly came up with this term independent of such search. Just let me have this one, ok?)
Now, why practice being Integrateful? And what does it have to do with our larger theme and purpose in this blog, the Conditions of Success?
I hope that there is not great need to make the case for why appreciation/thankfulness/gratitude is so important to a good and happy life, and to being successful. (I’m only going to use “integrateful” only sparingly from here on out. I don’t want to try your patience, and I’ve had enough Portmanteau. Got to drive home, after all.)
Here are two good reasons to practice gratitude:
First, if you are a Christian, you kind of don’t have a choice. The concepts of grace and gratitude are directly related. John Piper does a great job explaining the relation of the two words in a very old sermon, now available on his DesiringGod.org site. (Unsurprisingly, the article was posted on Thanksgiving!) The sermon is an exegesis on 2 Corinthians 4:15, in which Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
Piper shares the following:
“Almost all English translations miss a beautiful opportunity to preserve in English a play on words that occurs in Paul’s Greek. Paul says, “It is all for your sake, so that as charis extends to more and more people it may increase eucharistian to the glory of God.” The Greek word for thanks is built on the word for grace: charis becomes eucharistian. This could have been preserved in English by the use of ‘grace’ and ‘gratitude’ which show the same original root. So I would translate: “It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase gratitude to the glory of God.” The reason this is important is because when we try to define thanks or gratitude, what we find is that it has a very close relationship to grace. Unless we see this relationship, we really don’t know what gratitude is.”
I have nothing I could possibly add to that, other than that you can, and should, read the rest of the sermon here: http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/grace-gratitude-and-the-glory-of-god
Second, Wikipedia (in its entry on Gratitude) tells me that the study of how feelings and actions of gratitude and thankfulness relate to human happiness has been emerging in the field of psychology since the early 2000s. I’m inclined to take their word for it. It stands to reason, to me, that thanking people and showing gratitude is a good thing – both for the grantor and the receiver. It’s the old “the more you give the more you get” mindset. This term Integrateful is intended to communicate just such a virtuous circle – the emotion creates the environment for thinking which spurs action…and on and on and on. One feeds the other until you no longer can – nor need to – distinguish between and among them.
The connection to Success I want to draw is maybe a bit tenuous, at least theologically, I freely admit, but here it is: I don’t think God rewards ungrateful people. He may choose, for reasons we can never fully comprehend, to NOT punish some people who act that way. But there’s nothing to suggest that being an unappreciative jerk is grounds for blessing. What should be easier to agree with is that we as human beings have limited patience for people who consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation, thankfulness, and gratitude. For me, I guess it just comes down to this: if you practice gratitude, including in some of the ways I’m about to describe, then I think you’re creating Conditions of Success for yourself. I believe God will reward your efforts, people can largely overlook mistakes and faults, and you will find opportunities for living a happy, successful, and even more grateful life.
To conclude our time together, I’ll share with you some things that I am going to do starting today, and going forward, to practice gratitude and make it a habit in my own life. I encourage all 4 of you reading (I must have gained a reader since last time) to do the same.
- Over your Thanksgiving meal, with friends, family, whoever is in attendance, talk about how each of you understands and uses the words Appreciation, Thankfulness, and Gratitude. If you like, you can spend several minutes having a laugh at my expense about “Integrateful.” Then, go around the table and share what you’re thankful for. Sound hokey? Well, have you ever done it? IAt least as far as memory serves me, this will be a first for me and my family. I think it’s going to be a great thing.
- Something I’m going to do for the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas: a 21 day No Complaints challenge. There’s probably a bunch of variations to this that you’ve heard about, but I first learned of this from one of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts. I found this overview (with links) on his site. See here: http://fourhourworkweek.com/2007/09/18/real-mind-control-the-21-day-no-complaint-experiment/ (Note: there are a few expletives in the article, thought I would give you a heads up in case you don’t like that.)
- Incorporate Gratitude into your morning routine. Try GEBY, which stands for Gratitude, Exercise, Breakfast, and You. I got that from James Altucher’s podcast, an interview with entrepreneur and investor Noah Kagan about his experience losing out on a lot of money in the Facebook IPO. Cool story, which you can listen to here: http://askaltucher.com/noah/. (Similar warning: there’s a good bit of language there. If you don’t like hearing it, then I suggest you do not listen.) Whether or not you choose to incorporate the EBY parts into your daily preparation, or not, taking time each morning to list out a few things, big and small, that you’re grateful for TAKES WORK. Seriously, I’ve been trying this exercise for a few months, with a fair amount of consistency, and I can tell you that it’s tougher to do than you think. I have so much to be thankful for, but to sit down, calm your mind, and focus on this takes practice. Try it as part of your devotional and prayer time, and, if possible, ask someone to keep you accountable to doing this.
- Tithing. You gotta do it. It is a command to those of us who are believers in Christ. I will tell you that I’m pretty consistent with this – giving 10% of my net income to the Church or another faith based activity/group – but I do skip out. Purposely. Lately, having just bought a house, I’ve been trying to rebuild the savings fund as well as buy some new things for my place, and that money that I should be tithing ends up going there. That’s not right. Tithing is a demonstration of gratitude and faith, and is essential to a successful life as a Christian man or woman.
- Time tithing. This is a new one to me, but maybe it is not to you. I’m going to try it. As with tithing your money, there’s some debate with whether you base this on your “net” or “gross” free time (whatever that means I’m not sure), but here’s how my calculation breaks down: let’s assume each of us has 6 to 10 PM each weekday as “free” time – it’s after work and before bed. 4 hours per day times 5 weekdays is 20 hours. Add to that 8 each on Saturday and Sunday (since you’re not working) and that equals 36 total hours. 10% of that is 3.6, rounding up to 4. Just to make this simple, let’s call it 3 or 4 hours per week. Can I do that and will I do that? Give 3 or 4 hours of my precious free time to God? I’m going to try, and I’m asking you all to ask me how I’m doing with this in the coming weeks and months. What about you?
This is starting to get serious, huh? I mean, I’ve written 4 blog posts, which at least equals the most time and efforts I’ve ever dedicated to a writing project like this. And now I’m asking myself and you all to start taking action with me, to doing things that I think will radically change our lives if we commit to them, helping us not only understand success (finally!) but also being prepared for it.