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Sometimes It's The Little Things In Life

The Universal Virtue of Gratitude

By Jackie BarrowsPublished about a year ago 9 min read
Runner-Up in We Have a Dream Challenge

It’s no secret that life works like a rollercoaster, a puff of smoke, or even a blade of grass. Life has a way of shaking things up in an instant. In just a moment’s time, someone has given birth to their long-awaited newborn, lost a job due to unforeseen circumstances, come up with a great idea for a side-hustle business, blew a tire in the rain, or made a decision that changed their life in some way. The list goes on and on. It is because life can, will, and has many times changed up people’s lives for better or worse, that we often see a need for the concept of gratitude.

Gratitude is [by dictionary definition] the quality of being thankful for the many large and small blessings life offers; it is a readiness to show appreciation for someone or something and to return the favor with kindness. The reason this is considered a profound quality and characteristic to have is that it keeps us in perspective. It gives us the gift of insight that life is largely unfair, but still offers us blessings as well as chances to be blessings in others’ lives now and again. This is crucial for obvious reasons; without gratitude, the world would be an even worse place to live. Life would be seen too often from an internal and narrow-minded viewpoint when we should be taking a look at life from a grander perspective. Therefore, it is entirely important to develop a spirit of gratitude in one’s life.

Gratitude Is A Learned Trait

That being said, there are a few things to remember when it comes to cultivating gratefulness in one’s own life. The first thing to remember is that gratitude and gratefulness are without a doubt learned traits. None of us are born with a grateful heart, mind, or soul. If we were, we wouldn’t need to ask whether or not we should be grateful in our lives. Instead, gratefulness is something we are often taught (or at least should have been taught) when we are young. Our first lesson in gratitude may have come from learning about the Thanksgiving holiday and what it represents (for those of us living in the United States), or even more so when we are being disciplined by our parents for throwing a fit about something we wanted and did not receive. Cultivating gratefulness when we’re young often meant learning not to cry or sulk when things don’t go our way, and to instead think about the things we do have in life. It was in these little ways we learned that life is not perfect or fair, but if you choose to be grateful and focus on the positives, life becomes much more bearable.

Let’s all face it, folks; as a direct result of being human, we have to make virtues such as gratitude become part of our character in order for these traits to exist in our world. There’s no other way.

Gratitude Is All About Others Rather Than Self

The second point that gratitude teaches us is that life is not all about ourselves. Our culture likes to promote the self above all else. Cultures throughout time have done this; it is nothing new. However, it is nonetheless erroneous teaching on the part of the culture to promote the self in the way that it does; it too often leads to an ungrateful attitude. It teaches us to want what we want when we want it, and if we don’t get what we want, then we should whine, sulk, or even steal our way to getting what we’re after. This is the direct opposite of gratitude! It is by far one of the biggest outward signs that humanity is in a perpetual state of going downhill. It is where we as a species screw up the most, for when you care only for yourself and no one else, even the planet we live on suffers greatly.

If you take the time to watch videos of people going out of their way to help others, you see the virtue of gratitude in action. Gratefulness is the driving force and the outward sign as well as to why people choose to help those around them. They know deep down that they’ve been helped in large and small ways before, and seek to keep that trend going by caring for those in their little part of the world. In the 90s, there was a movement called Pay It Forward. It began from a movie by the same title, and the movement carried forward as a means to encourage others to do good rather than harm. Today’s culture only sees small hints of such motivation now; it is not often talked about anymore, and today’s children have likely never even seen the film. It is the same for other movements such as WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), which began under the same premise: encouraging others to do good. These movements are nothing more than pieces of history now. What would the world look like, however, if those movements were brought back not as any sort of political scheme, mind you, but as they were originally intended? Doing good for the sake of doing good because it is necessary and imperative to do so, thereby making the world a better place.

Gratitude Is Hard Work

The thing is that promotion of the self sounds harmless (as though it is only natural and somehow equates to taking care of one’s self), while developing a grateful heart, mind, and soul takes an awful lot of work. Promotion of self often looks like self-care or something one does in order to start a creative business. However, if you truly aim to care for yourself, the way to do it is not to promote yourself above all else; it is actually to develop virtues such as gratitude. Virtues such as gratitude bring balance to one’s character. This is a hard road for humans to travel; as illustrated in the first point of this essay, gratitude is a learned trait, not a natural one. Obviously, this means that there’s going to be work involved in order to make this part of one’s character.

Gratitude is also a difficult trait to develop as life at times hands more than what we feel like we can handle. This is true for those suffering from depression and anxiety, whether they are predisposed to such mental illnesses or suffer because circumstances dealt them a bad hand. It is at those points when we need to remember to be grateful for the good things in life and learn to focus on what is both positive and possible more so than ever. This is not to belittle those who suffer; their feelings are often very real and are worth considering. However, gratitude is a virtue that helps do the hard work of lifting us out of that mental state and into one that is better able to receive new opportunities. It is a gentle reminder that there are good things that happen in life even in spite of the bad things. For example, you may have recently lost a job, and are now wondering how you are going to pay the rent. However, gratitude shows you that this job wasn’t a good fit, to begin with, and thus worth losing. You were made for greater things. Times may be tough for a bit, but now you have the opportunity to work on projects that may lead you to bigger and better things.

The important point to remember here is that while it seems trite and even insulting that gratitude is there to remind you of the good things in life, as well as remind you that things could always be worse, it is the truth. It is not meant to be a straight-up condescending insult; it is merely there to help during the tough times we all face. Again, gratefulness gives us proper perspective and balanced emotions.

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People and Vice Versa?

Well, there’s an age-old question! The quick answer is that we live on planet earth which is full of human beings who have issues, problems, tendencies towards evil and/or selfish behavior, and all of this is the root cause. In Christian circles, we call this a sinful nature. Regardless of your beliefs on this matter, I think we can all agree that we are at least screwed up. Good things happening to bad people are often the result of bad people wanting good things very badly, and doing everything in their power to obtain the good things whilst stepping on good people as well as other bad people to get there. The good people are usually left in the dust, trying to salvage what was likely destroyed by the greedy and power-hungry people of the world.

What does this have to do with gratitude? The obvious answer is this: people often ask and/or cry out this question when they themselves (a generally good person in their own eyes as well as those who care about them) have something bad happen to them. In other words, this is generally speaking a sign of an ungrateful attitude, as those who ask this question are feeling like life is terribly unfair to them specifically. This is one of those points where, while it is a question of the ages, it is incredibly important to get outside of one’s self and start looking at the world in a broader sense. Remember, rain and sunshine fall on both the just and the unjust. The ancients knew it well, and it still applies today. Perhaps we should learn from their thoughts on the matter in order to give ourselves perspective and cultivate gratitude in our own lives.

Should We Be Grateful?

In a nutshell, yes! Wallowing in self-pity is something that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to do. It is one thing to let the feelings out for a short while, and then move on with the rest of your life. It is another ball of wax to stay stuck in those feelings and shut out the good things you already have or will be given to you at some point. Too many people nowadays fall into such a trap (I’ve done it as well!), and the truth is that such a mental trap is dangerous.

Take a look around you. No matter how bad life gets for you personally, or for your community, your state, nation, or the world at large, there’s always something good happening somewhere. Someone’s child is finally taking their first steps after doctors have said they’d never walk. Meanwhile, another person survives their first/second/third/so on a round of chemo, and in the process beat cancer. A student survives finals week and walks across the stage to receive their diploma or degree. You could be given an opportunity or an idea that will not only change your own life but the lives of those around you. It is indeed the truth; there’s always something good happening in the world, and whether it is for yourself or others, we should always take a moment to be grateful for the good things in our lives. It is the mark of someone who is mature, mentally and emotionally balanced, and geared towards good rather than selfishness. It is a powerful virtue that everyone should make part of their character in order to achieve a better world.


About the Creator

Jackie Barrows

Jackie Barrows is an artist, a writer, and all around creative soul who enjoys bringing new ideas and stories to life. She wears many hats as a Graphic Designer, a blogger, and Lead Production Artist for R.A.W. Productions.

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