Cicero, a Roman philosopher who lived in the first century B.C., stated that gratitude is not only the greatest virtue but also the source from which all other virtues flow. Being that Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner for those of us who live in the United States, it is probably appropriate for us to take a look at thanksgiving and the attitude of gratitude. I would have us do so by examining three common barriers to being grateful.
Barrier One: Dissatisfaction with the blessings we have. Instead of being thankful for the good things we do have, we whine about the ones we don’t. Know anyone like that? Brother, do I!
A teenaged acquaintance of mine received a brand new Mercury Cougar the Christmas she turned 14. Was she grateful for this extraordinary present? Astonishingly, no. The car did not have an ornament on the hood that she desired. She put up such a fuss until her parents exchanged the car for one that did. (In my opinion, that was stupid parenting.) Most of us guys would have been glad to have gotten a car of any kind, even a clunker! We should work at not allowing dissatisfaction with what we do have erect a barrier to a sense of gratitude.
Barrier Two: Envy of what others have. How often do we fall into the trap of not being grateful for those good things that we have been gifted because we have gotten our eyes on and are envying things that others have? I have frequently observed such behavior in the lives of our grandchildren at birthday parties and family Christmas gatherings. I have observed unhappy complaints and whining from grandchildren jealous of what a sibling or cousin received that they also wanted. Many adults exhibit similar behavior. They can’t be grateful for what they do have because of envying something someone else has. My suggestion for overcoming this barrier to gratitude is to grow up and get our eyes off others and what they have and focus on the good things with which God has blessed us. As a friend of mine once remarked, “It is true that the grass is often greener on the other side of the fence, but it may be because it is growing over a septic tank!” We need to do our best to make certain that envy does not rob us of a spirit of gratitude.
Barrier Three: A feeling of entitlement. It is my opinion that one of the greatest barriers to gratitude is a sense of entitlement. In fact, I believe that this is one of the chief problems we face as a nation. Some of the most unhappy and impossible people to please are those individuals who feel that life owes them. The first step to curing this selfish outlook on life is to acknowledge that God owes us absolutely nothing. Every good thing in life that comes our way is an undeserved gift from him.
William Shakespeare once remarked, “I hate ingratitude more in a man than lying, (pride), babbling, drunkenness, or any other taint of vice whose strong corruption inhabits our frail blood.” We need to be diligent in our effort to eradicate the barriers to gratitude from our life because an attitude of ingratitude is most unbecoming and unpleasant to be around. It is also a sin.
I close with an old Irish proverb that puts it most succinctly: “Get on your knees and thank God that you are on your feet.” If we have the blessing of being on our feet, we have a lot for which to be thankful, even if it is not all we want.