This week many of us will take time out of our busy schedules to feel grateful for the many good things in our lives.
Soon afterwards, we will begin to think about how generous we want to be towards the people in our lives. These two virtues — gratitude and generosity — form a cycle of virtue that can attract love and happiness into our families, or can become an endless cycle of obligation, disappointment and resentment. It all depends on whether you focus on the value of the THING being given and received, or the value of the PERSON who is doing the giving or receiving.
When you focus on the thing — whether it is a pair of socks, a new car, a compliment, or simply a beautiful blue sky — then you can get caught up in all sorts of transactional considerations. How much do I really like it? How much did they spend? Can I return it? Am I allowed to accept it? Do I deserve it? What will they expect from me in return?
But when you focus on the person behind the gift — whether that is a spouse, a child, a friend, or even God — then the exchange becomes an invisible bond of connection between you. You perceive that person’s generosity, and your innate attraction to that virtue — not your appreciation for the gift — draws you closer together. In this way, gratitude generates the joy of a stronger relationship.
As you feel closer to others, you will desire to give something to them – not as repayment, but as an expression of your own love for them. And so you become less selfish and more generous yourself. And the cycle continues.
So here is an exercise for you to do during the holidays. When you receive something from someone else — whether it is a gift from under a tree, an invitation to a party, or even just a compliment — stop for just a moment. Before you say “thank you,” close your eyes and picture them handing you a light on the end of a string. You can do this in the blink of an eye if they are standing there, or hold the vision for several minutes if they aren’t. Feel the connection between you grow. Say “thank you” inside your head to the person you are visualizing, and then, if they are standing there, say “thank you” out loud, as though you really mean it.
Because you will.
Gratitude and Generosity are two of the virtues talked about in our Animals Building Character coloring and activities book on the G pages, in which a generous gorilla shares grapes with a grateful giraffe. Here’s what the activities pages say about the subject:
Saying “thank you” is a way of being courteous, but true gratefulness, or gratitude is a virtue that creates a feeling in your heart. Imagine that you are really really hungry, and then someone offers you a bunch of grapes. Doesn’t that make you feel good? It feels good to see that someone cared enough about you to offer you something you need. Feeling gratitude towards them feels good and makes you feel connected to them — like a friend.
Maybe the gorilla is giving away his grapes because he wants to be friends, and maybe it is because it feels good to be generous. Have you heard that it is better to give than to receive? That seems like such a strange idea, but it is true. When we give to others it helps us make friends, but it also reminds us of how much we already have. So generosity makes us feel rich. It also makes us feel happy to help make someone else happy. Thinking about what other people might need helps us to become more compassionate. So we give one thing away, and we receive many things in return. Even if we have no grapes, no money, and no things to give away, we always have our smiles, our attention and ourselves. These are the greatest gifts of all.
What is the nicest thing anyone ever gave to you or did for you?
Write them a note telling them how thankful you are — even if it has been years… especially if it has been years! Write it here, then copy it carefully onto a note card and send it to them.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.” Put some thought into how you might practice generosity today. Is there something you have or can do that would make someone you know happy? Read the quotations below and then write down some ideas.
Quotations about Gratitude and Generosity
In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy. Albert Clarke
Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it. — Ralph Marston
If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share. — W. Clement Stone
It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go. — Nigerian proverb
Money is not the only [thing] that is fun to give. We can give time, we can give our expertise, we can give our love or simply give a smile. What does that cost? The point is, none of us can ever run out of something worthwhile to give. — Steve Goodier
Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. Reach out. Share. Smile. Hug. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself. — Og Mandino
Money is but one venue for generosity. Kindness is an even more valuable currency. — Alan Cohen