Sunday Firesides: Graduate From the Kindergarten Class of Gratitude

Is there anything more innocuous than gratitude? It’s one of the few values endorsed by solemn religious leaders and vapid lifestyle gurus alike. Unlike other virtues, which require going against instinct (e.g., you feel afraid, but decide to act with courage anyway), with gratitude, you simply lean into it; something good happens, you feel good, and you need only recognize that warm and fuzzy sensation.

Gratitude is seemingly easy. Basic. Indeed, even parents who give their children little other character instruction still teach their kindergartener to say thank you.

Yet there’s more to gratitude than commonly countenanced — higher and harder shades of it to reach for beyond its elementary-level start.

“Advanced” gratitude retains delight in someone’s admirable qualities and small acts of service . . . even after the novel and noticeable becomes the ordinary and expected.

Advanced gratitude remains thankful for the good that resulted from a relationship . . . even when the relationship went sour in the end.

Advanced gratitude continues to acknowledge the assists that got you to where you are today . . . even when the steps between that past help and the present day have multiplied, and the memory of the connection between a once-vital-boost and your current happiness has faded.

Advanced gratitude is evinced even when it doesn’t feel good; it is fought for even when its recognition makes you feel indebted, dependent, or less than.

If elementary gratitude is instinctual; advanced gratitude is effortful. Whereas one is merely felt, the other is expressed.

If, in the kindergarten class of gratitude, the warm fuzzies of thankfulness are for the heart-lightening benefit of the individual alone, in post-graduate gratitude, they are used as a spur towards being better, doing better, giving back.

Gratitude then becomes not only as morally strenuous as all the other virtues, but, as Cicero put it, the very parent which gives them life.

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