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Conservative thinker Arthur C. Brooks opened an email one day containing feedback for his recent book. “Dear Professor Brooks,” the message began, “you are a fraud.” Though the correspondent proceeded to criticize every chapter of the new book, Brooks says his “dominant thought wasn’t resentment. It was, ‘He read my book!’ And so I wrote him back … mostly just expressing gratitude for his time and attention.”
Because of gratitude’s positive effects on our inner lives, Brooks encourages us to make it “a routine, independent of how you feel — and not just once each November, but all year long.” Indeed, gratitude is much larger than one holiday in one country on one day. The virtue of gratitude is global and eternally relevant.
The roots of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States are Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving proclamation at the height of the Civil War — a proclamation that reveals gratitude as a virtue for all seasons. Even in the midst of a war that claimed some 620,000 lives, Lincoln pointed to such gifts as a bountiful harvest and the births of more babies as reasons for a fractured republic to be fruitful in gratitude.
To express gratitude implies that there is a someone to be grateful to. For Lincoln and many others before and since, that someone is God. After enumerating the people’s many blessings, Lincoln writes that “no human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
For Latter-day Saints, gratitude to a compassionate God is an indispensable grace. A well-known Mormon scripture says those who “confess not [God’s] hand in all things” offend Him. And, as all Christians know, when Jesus healed 10 lepers and only one returned thanks, Christ’s simple yet searching question leaves no doubt about His views on gratitude. “Were there not ten cleansed?” He asks.
To be grateful is to pause, think and ponder on the goodness of our existence. For people of faith, stopping our busyness to consider our blessings (no matter how small) is more than a nice idea — it’s a transformative process in which our souls are drawn upward in love to God, who then points us outward to lift others. Whether it’s Mormons reaching out to flood victims in Louisiana and refugees in Italy, Southern Baptists rallying to help a Muslim neighbor whose business was robbed and damaged, or Christian congregations teaching kids in the community that “we’re all God’s children, and we all should look out for one another,” people of faith around the globe show their gratitude to God by immersing themselves into their local communities.
Of course, one doesn’t have to be religious to be grateful. The famed atheist Richard Dawkinsonce described his “abstract gratitude” to be alive to appreciate the wonders of the universe and the beauties of the earth. Yet, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “it is hard to feel grateful to a universe that came into existence for no reason and is blind to us and our fate. It is precisely our faith in a personal God that gives force and focus to our thanks.”
For believers, the heft of such focused gratitude to God is reflected in Joseph Smith’s words that “a man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”