CGG Weekly, November 23, 2012

"The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings."
Henry Ward Beecher

During this past Christmas season a discussion on the radio station that we listen to during the drive to work each morning focused on sending thank-you cards for Christmas presents. One of the hosts said that she had been taught to do so by her mother, while the other contended that it would be ridiculous to send them. At about this same time, my wife and I became aware of a book entitled A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge. Mr. Kralik has revealed an extremely important aspect of gratefulness, that expressing thankfulness is absolutely essential, even vital.

The word thank means "to express gratitude for a favor and "to acknowledgements to one for kindness bestowed." John Ayto, in his Dictionary of Word Origins, comments:

The notion of "gratitude," in modern English "thank," arose out of an earlier "thoughtfulness." For the word goes back ultimately to prehistoric Germanic thangk-thengk, which also produced the English "think," and the noun originally meant "thought." . . . The sense "thought" graduated via favorable thought, to good will, to gratitude.

Many research studies have recognized a correlation between gratitude and increased wellbeing, and not just for the one expressing thanks but for everyone involved. Those who advocate positive psychology have taken these studies to heart and have begun to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude. Writing thank-you letters is being prescribed. It has been found that what works best in the short term is a "gratitude visit," where a person writes and delivers a letter of gratitude to someone in his life. The longest-lasting outcome comes after writing a "gratitude journal," where the individual writes down three things he is grateful for every day.

People who are more grateful just feel better about themselves. They are happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and relationships. They feel more in control of their surroundings, personal growth, and purpose in life. Thankful people employ more positive ways of coping with the trials of life. They sleep better at night because they think fewer negative thoughts and more positive ones just before nodding off.

Judge John Kralik's book rests on similar principles. He contends that the law of reciprocity—which posits that what a person does will return to him—prevails in the act of expressing thanks.

Kralik writes about the miserable position that he found himself in one December day. His law firm was losing money and its lease. Not only that, but he was also in the midst of a difficult divorce, and he was completely out of funds. He was living in a small, stuffy apartment, often sleeping on the floor to escape the heat. His sons had grown distant from him. He could only see an even worse year ahead.

Originally, he had high expectations for his life. Yet, they had all long since fallen by the wayside during his pursuit of financial stability, which he had clearly failed to achieve.

He recounts the lesson that his grandfather had tried to teach him when he was a boy of five. His grandfather had given him a shiny, new silver dollar and promised that, if he wrote him a letter thanking him for it, he would give him another one. "That's the way thank-you letters work" his grandfather told him. Sure enough, once little John wrote him the letter of thanks, he received a second silver dollar. But John failed to learn the lesson very well. He never sent a thank-you letter for the second dollar, and so his grandfather never sent him a third one.

As he walked along a hiking trail in the wilderness, in the midst of despair, he claims to have heard a voice that said, "Until you learn to be grateful for what you have, you will not receive the things you want."

Well, he decided immediately that he would embark on a campaign of sending thank-you notes to 365 people during the course of the next year. He spends the rest of the book describing the thank-you notes, the occasions for them, and the results of having sent them. Of course, things turn for the better immediately: Clients begin paying long overdue bills, his practice gains new clients, new office space presents itself, and perhaps best of all, his sons are suddenly eager for renewed relationships.

He experiences a transformation from self-absorbed ingrate to a joyful, grateful, positive person. To top it all off, he winds up as a Superior Court Judge, something he had always dreamed about becoming. Now he is a happy, successful, and grateful man who continues to write letters of thanks on every occasion. He also keeps a journal of the kind acts and thank-you notes, which he rejoices in revisiting.

Over the years, those of us in God's church have received a great deal of teaching about gratitude and thankfulness. Probably most of us are already extremely thankful, especially to God, but we need to express that gratitude too. The Bible gives us many exhortations to thank and praise God, and this attitude should extend to those around us for their kindnesses.

  • Psalm 100:4: Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
  • Psalm 140:13: Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence.
  • Colossians 3:15: And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
  • I Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

It is a big mistake to neglect expressing earnest thanks whenever it is called for. The benefits to others and to us are too valuable to pass up. In fact, we are cheating ourselves as much as we cheat our benefactors by withholding our expressions of gratitude from them.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs 3:27, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so." We usually think of this as an admonition not to withhold charity, but it is apropos in this context as well. We should not withhold our expressions of thanks from those to whom it is due. Who knows how many shiny, new silver dollars we have already missed out on?