Gratitude is a big thing right now in the spiritual communities that I partake in. “The way to get what you want is to be grateful for what you have.” is a phrase I’ve heard so often and in so many places I can’t even attribute it. I get what they’re saying.
In my day job, I’m a writer, and a word geek. And the exact denotations and connotations of words are fun and exciting to me. How they can make us feel a certain way without us even realizing it. I love how you can express an exact and precise feeling when you find the right word, even though your audience might not catch the nuance. It warms my geeky little heart.
But I digress. Back to gratitude. I think we’re using the wrong word.
Dictionary.com defines it as “the quality
Freedictionary.com says it’s “The state of being grateful; thankfulness. also a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation, as for gifts or favours.”
So first I had to check up on ‘grateful’, since that’s the word they were using to define the state. And I get “thankful for gifts, favours, etc; appreciative”
And that, right there, is why I think we’re using the wrong word. Because when I hear the discussions about offering gratitude, that’s the definition I hear and understand, “to be thankful for gifts and favors.” And I absolutely agree that we should be thankful for all the things that we have. Those of us privileged to live in the west have things at a level the rest of the world finds insane. And clean running water. And public education.
The thing is, I don’t think we always appreciate them.
Appreciate. That’s the word I think we need to be using here.
Freedictionary.com gives us this for appreciate:
1. To recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of: appreciated their freedom.2. To be fully aware of or sensitive to; realize: I appreciate your problems.3. To be thankful or show gratitude for: I really appreciate your help.4. To admire greatly; value.5. To raise in value or price, especially over time.
To recognize the quality and significance. To admire greatly. To be fully aware of.
Those, as well as thankfulness, are what I think the teachers mean when they tell us to practice gratitude. To appreciate what we have and where we are. And if you think about it like that, you can almost imagine that the last definition in there, to raise in value, could almost be a hint.