I have come to understand that I do not need to feel grateful in order to be grateful. Unfortunately, too often in our society terms like “gratitude” and “love” come to be understood or perceived primarily as emotional experiences or responses. Also, from this perspective, if things seem to be going badly for us, it is difficult to be grateful.
A little more than two years ago I had an epiphany of sorts on this subject, i.e., I finally began to get it. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine–he happens to be a recovering alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous–who told me in response to a comment I made about “feeling grateful”, that gratitude was an action and something we practiced. I learned that it did not matter or depend on whether I was feeling grateful. (I have also learned that the same is true for “love” and “loving.”)
While it is perfectly appropriate and important to verbally express my gratitude to God or others, it means very little if I’m not showing or living it. I am also learning and experiencing that it is more meaningful and rewarding when I do something as an act of gratitude–or love–without expecting some kind of response or reward. Along this same line, my friend has also encouraged me to practice doing something for someone else without getting caught … or telling anybody. I tend to think and believe that these kinds of selfless demonstrations of loving gratitude are most pleasing to God.
I recently came upon the following quote by Thomas Merton on gratitude which I also found quite helpful:
“Gratitude is more than a mental exercise, more than a formula of words. We cannot be satisfied to make a mental note of things which God has done for us and then perfunctorily thank Him for favors received.
To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us — and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace, for it brings with us immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder, and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference… Gratitude is therefore the heart of the Christian life.”