I know fundraisers who send Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas or holiday cards. Each year around Thanksgiving time, they think back over the past year, pick out the people who have been especially good to them and mail them a thank-you note.
They do this thinking and then they do their thanking. In so doing, they relive the fact that in our language the word “thank” comes from the word “think.” Experience verifies that the thankful person is the thoughtful person.
Gratitude should be as natural as breathing; ingratitude should strike us as a monstrosity. Hence the point of the old saying: Gratitude is the least of the virtues; the lack of it is the worst of the vices.
Often we express our gratitude by a single word: “Thanks.” In this case, we reduce the message to its core. Notice, though, we use the plural noun, “thanks.” We don’t merely give a thank; we give thanks. The plural suggest abundance, as though in imitation of the abundance we have received. “Thanks” as a plural also suggests that we keep on expressing gratitude, especially to the most generous people in our lives.
The ancient Romans didn’t “give” thanks. They “did” their thanks. They would have called our American holiday "Thanskdoing Day."
Generally religious is the saying of grace before meals. This word “grace” harkens back to the “gratias,” which the Romans did when they did their thanking. Connected with gracious, grateful and gratis, “gratia” meant a favor, something pleasing done to you for which you showed yourself pleasantly thankful in return.
Faced with a good meal, especially when surrounded by loved ones, we can be grateful that life brings us delightful things as well as sad and painful ones. We can also be grateful that the gifts we receive help us to help those in need.
Whether we are religious or not, Thanksgiving is most filling and fulfilling when it becomes Thanksdoing. And for that, we are happily not restricted to the last Thursday in November.
Nor is our gratitude necessarily restricted to the delightful things. Recalling a difficult time in his life, U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold wrote: “Cry. Cry if you must. But do not complain. The path chose you. And in the end, you shall say thank you.”
Gratitude is warmest when it accompanies the joy of being able to give without expecting anything in return. We find it isn’t enough to feel grateful. We have to express our gratitude by showing kindness and service to everyone around us.
Gratitude is the greatest of all heart-openers. When it enters the heart, love pours out. For every kindness we receive, gratitude inspires a hundred acts of giving.