What is gratitude? Just about everyone knows the term. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful for someone or something. You demonstrate it when you show appreciation for the kindness that someone has bestowed on you. But apart from Thanksgiving, perhaps, how often do you think about gratitude? How often in your life do you express it?
Is Gratitude a Learned Behavior?
Some people say that the younger generations, the ones who are coming up, take things for granted. These older adults feel that Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z don’t have to work as hard for things. These older generations might say the youngsters don’t know how to change a flat tire. They’ll grumble that young people are helpless without their cell phones. They don’t appreciate some of the hardships that existed for their forebears.
You can debate whether that’s true or not. What is evident, though, many times, is that younger people are not always as appreciative of the good things in their lives. What we should consider, though, is not whether this is unique to any particular generation. Rather, it might be true that gratitude is something that we learn the older we get because we learn empathy.
How are Empathy and Gratitude Related?
Empathy happens when you can share and understand the feelings of another. Most of us develop it at some point. Those who don’t are sociopaths, as people understand the term. But empathy is something that we have to grow as human beings. It’s not something that we have instantaneously. When we’re born, we only care about ourselves. We have to in order to survive.
As we grow, we come to see that other living creatures besides ourselves have feelings. Maybe as a child, you’re running around and causing a ruckus when your mother has a headache. You see her wincing in pain as she sits at the kitchen table, rubbing her head. You feel a twinge of regret for your behavior. You are beginning to develop empathy.
Learning About Gratitude is a Part of Growing Up
What does empathy have to do with gratitude? When you stop to examine these two concepts, you will see that they are directly related. If you are empathetic toward someone, then you can understand the sacrifices they have made for others. More to the point, you know the sacrifices they have made for you.
Our parents are often perfect examples of this. Maybe you had a mother or father who worked multiple jobs to put food on the table for you and your siblings. Perhaps it was someone else toward whom you started to feel gratitude. It could be that your school district had very little budget for the arts. The studio art teacher put up some of their own money for a class field trip to a museum. These sorts of things happen frequently. However, how many young people are truly grateful for them?
Express Gratitude in Your Life
The reality is that empathy and gratitude come easier to some of us than to others. Part of this is due to feelings that are inherent in us. Part of it is a learned behavior. If we see the adults around us expressing gratitude toward each other for good deeds, then it’s something that we will probably do as well.
We are better people when we feel empathy, and when we show gratitude. Take some time to think about those in your life who are special to you. Those might be your parents or grandparents. Maybe it’s your spouse or kids, siblings, other relatives, or your friends. How often do you tell them, simply and sincerely, that you appreciate them? How often do you convey to them that you are glad they’re in your life?
It is the people in our lives whom we love and care about that make our existence worth it. You should tell them so. Don’t think about these expressions of gratitude as being corny or sappy. Think of them as an honest declaration of your true feelings that might be overdue.
When we have gratitude for the good things and the people in our lives, and we’re not afraid to express it, it makes us better. No one ever regretted telling someone they were grateful for their presence. Regrets only come when you elect not to express these feelings enough.