According to merriam-webster.com, the definition of gratitude is the state of being grateful : thankfulness. When we are grateful, we are appreciative of benefits received.
Received from whom? Back in the old days, it was common to send a thank you note to the one providing the benefit. If one received a gift, one was expected to send a note of thanks, of gratitude, to the person who gave the gift. Okay, fine. This all makes perfect sense you say.
But, in this day and age of the new age movement, expressing gratitude is part of feeling good, of being happy. True, but only to a point, and most of the time the instruction is to journal about what you are grateful for and express your gratitude out to the universe. Seriously, what did the universe ever give anybody, and who is going to read your gratitude journal?
We have to remember, all good things come from God. God is who we need to express our gratitude toward; sure write it down if you’d like, but acknowledge where you are sending your gratitude. If expressing gratitude makes you feel better, just imagine how much better you will feel if you send your gratitude to Someone.
Yes, Someone is God, and expressing gratitude to Him is a form of prayer. In Fr. Robert Spitzer’s book, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for Active People, he says:
Gratitude is the second act of contemplation and the spiritual life (following upon praise). It is no accident that the Greek word “eucharistia” means “thanksgiving”, for that is precisely what Jesus was doing when He initiated the precious sacrament of His unconditional Love. As a consequence, the whole of Christian spiritual tradition is premised on receiving the gifts and graces that God continually presents to us. But such reception depends on our recognizing these gifts. If we do not recognize as wondrous gifts the gifts of life, love, other people, family, good things, goodness itself, being rescued from danger, being “on the right road”, the beauty of nature, beauty itself, education, creativity, the truth itself, and even the desire and capacity to give praise to God – gifts that so easily could have been absent, indeed, which so easily could have been otherwise – then we are probably destined to see life in terms of what we lack, what we do not have, or what we did not get, etc. Dissatisfaction with what we lack leads to resentment and self-pity, while gratitude recognizes the loving hand of God. The latter is the condition necessary for the spiritual life; the former undermines it.
This fundamental orientation toward gratitude pertains not only to the spiritual life, but to life and happiness itself. There is an old expression that runs as follows: “I never knew a grateful person who was unhappy, or an ungrateful person who was happy.” This is a truism because a lack of gratitude generally reveals “taking things for granted”, that is, assuming that things should be better than they are, or even that things should be perfect….
So be thankful for the little things, be thankful for the big things, be thankful for God Himself. This love of God and gratitude for his gifts leads us to a happy life, thanks be to God!