Gratitude is action

Originally posted 11/22/17.

It has been a little while since my last post on service, and I figured now to be the right time to explore gratitude what with the holiday season having approached so quickly. (Seriously, where the heck did September and October go?) But like I do on some of my posts, let’s get some words out of the way for a quick foundation on the topic.

Gratitude – readiness to show appreciation for, to return kindness.

Action – a thing done, an act.

Force – strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.

From a language perspective, gratitude is a noun, or a word to describe a thing. Action itself is also a noun, to describe a thing which has already taken place. Force is also a noun, describing the energy itself, and not the actions or their types. Though force can mean coercion or compulsion through threats, this is not a force we are working with in this context.

So let’s talk about action. Action, in it’s defined state, is either about to happen, or has happened.

In many posts about gratitude and action, we see some feeble attempts to relate Newton’s third law and attempt to twist it to fit. This cannot apply as Newton’s third law is about force. When talking about taking action, we are not talking about the use of force in any way shape or form. Sure, force is used to lift items, shake hands, or throw something. But it does not apply to the mental state of taking an action towards someone with an appreciation to be reciprocated.

Case in point, you cannot say that the reaction of an individual to your grateful action to be an equal and opposite reaction. This would mean they would display negativity to your positive message. Hence the shortening and twisting of the law which would then make it state that every action has an equal reaction only.

This would be more fitting for equivalent exchange (if you’re a Full Metal Alchemist fan, you already understand). As a TV show cannot be cited for a proper source, we seek the alchemist’s belief system as it has roots in spirituality to express the law as, “Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return.” As described, the gain here is one of unselfish and selfless act, that something must be given or taken to have that void filled, but the end result or reciprocation should not be the focus.

Another example would be to review nature itself with physics, horror vacui or plenism, as commonly stated, “nature abhors a vacuum” as postulated by Aristotle. With this in mind, the release of matter from within an area creates a vacuum which must be filled with something else. For example, a glass of water, as it is emptied, fills with air. We do not see the air, but the air fills the seemingly empty area of the glass as water is removed. For it to be a true vacuum, it would be nothing, and nothing cannot rightly be said to exist (Plato).

Considering all of the previous information, the action we take towards others will be reciprocated in some way which will fill the void we create, but only with the idea that what we are giving this thing (item, kind word, or action) where the reciprocated action is set to a realistic and true equivalent with no expectation. Keeping it simple:

We give for the joy of giving.

This is similar to other adages like “satisfaction is a job well done.” Using this information to our understanding, we are not in the business of results. We have filled the void alone with our own perspective and approach by taking action and then generating joy for said action. 

Isn’t that a bit selfish? To ask how one derives joy from an action that helps others is selfish could be a realistic approach, but not when there is no expectation set on the action. As long as I have no expectation from the other person involved, I feel good just doing something nice for them. If they decide to reciprocate in some way shape or form, I like to use a good word from my family in Louisiana, lagniappe

Lagniappe is defined as something given as a bonus or gift. Under the law of equivalent exchange, these moments of lagniappe should be reserved to only those actions which outweigh the self generated joy from the action alone. Another way to look at this is with the Catholic bible. In the bible, God states that those who do good deeds on earth will gain entry to the kingdom of Heaven. The idea, then, is that the giving nature of people would be repaid with greater joy than people themselves could generate through their kindness. Of course we can see examples of this in other religions, but the idea remains the same, give of yourself to generate your own joy in life, and you will always receive more than you expect. 

So to circle back to selfishness, of course we like being joyful, so why wouldn’t we do what we enjoy? As we are people and flawed, we will self-seek, it is our base nature. Many spiritual programs  preach for the removal of all earthly desires, which very few people have been able to achieve. Understanding this, we can then set a more immediate goal of removing the expectation that what we do for others is to to be repaid by anything greater than self-satisfaction.

Now, for a quick dose of realism, understand that this is not the same old “do what you love and never work a day in your life” talks. Life takes money and effort to sustain. We work to sustain our needs and desires. We work to support families and friends. This is not in any way saying that you should not expect to be paid for doing your job. What we are talking about is person to person experiences or individual moments we share with someone where we can take action to serve them without ulterior motives.

So the next step is gratitude. In case you scrolled too far:

Gratitude – readiness to show appreciation for, to return kindness.

I like the use of readiness here:

Readiness – the state of being fully prepared for something; willingness to do something.

Willingness is another good term. It seems we need to go deeper:

Willingness – the quality or state of being prepared to do something.

If we mash all of these definitions together, we get the quality or state of being fully prepared to do something to show appreciation for kindness. That’s a mouthful. Maybe shorten it just a little:

Ready to act on a kindness.

Action is now a defined portion of gratitude. As the title states, gratitude in action, it almost seems backwards. But the truth is, gratitude is shown via action as we defined. So to truly show gratitude is to enjoy something received from another individual.

We have a definition which speaks in the past tense about a received kindness. If you get a nice gift or card from someone, what do you do first? You’ll probably smile, then make eye contact with that person, and thank them. These are all actions. Now take it a step further and show gratitude in your enjoyment. Keep that kindness close to your heart and let that person know how you remember when they did that kindness for you. Even better, do an equivalent or greater kindness for them. 

Gratitude isn’t necessarily limited to receiving a gift though. Kindness can come in many forms and daily interactions, but that doesn’t mean you cannot show gratitude for the little kindnesses of the day. I’ll elaborate more on those daily things and what to do with them below.

English, Physics, and Theological lessons out of the way, how do we show gratitude daily? Why do we only speak of gratitude during Thanksgiving? Is this the only time to be grateful for what we have, who we are, who we share our lives with? Why be grateful at all? Isn’t life difficult and full of issues around the world we live in? It is my hope to answer these questions and describe living gratitude in our action to all we encounter.

So, how do we show gratitude daily? 

In no way can I say I will make a comprehensive list, but here are some suggestions:

1. Do you feel good about how you look? Show someone else that they should feel good too and compliment something about them that stands out to you. 

2. Hold the door! It’s not meant to be as chivalrous as it sounds, but just something that shows the person behind you that you are aware of them.

3. Let people in. If you needed to get over a lane in traffic and see someone with a turn signal on, let them in. You got to reap the benefit, share it.

4. Be nice. Send a message to someone you don’t talk to frequently just to let them know you were thinking of them and how they were doing. Invite them to share where they are and be proud of their successes.

5. Show love. It’s easy to take family for granted as we come home, and they are there as they were the day before. Really show them they are appreciated and do something small but special. Order dinner before you get home, or simply invite everyone for a hug.

6. Appreciate where you’re at. If you wake up and are dissatisfied, it’s time to get to basics. Did you get to wake up today? Are you breathing? Then you have two things to be grateful for! Use the basics as a foundation for your day instead of the fleeting issues.

Why do we speak of gratitude on Thanksgiving only, and is this the only time to be grateful for what we have, who we are, and who we share our lives with?

I believe I generalized this question as many people show gratitude throughout the year with little notice as the focus of gratitude is simply on this day. But this one day to show it makes the whole thing cliche and devalued in my opinion. We should show gratitude and celebrate it on a daily basis as described above. Sure, having a day where we can all be thankful for what we have is nice, but living a lifestyle where you can celebrate each day is more rewarding. We are blessed with opportunities to show our thanks for everything we have. Take them!

Why be grateful at all? Isn’t life difficult and full of issues around the world we live in?

Life is tough, and the world is a frightening place. Wars, famine, and bad news abound from every source we have from radio, TV, and internet. But the defeatist attitude of joining the supposed ranks of other disappointed people is not the answer. These problems have plagued humanity for centuries, yet we keep moving forward to make things better. The bad news will always find us first, but taking the initiative to find the good things in life, the scientific breakthroughs, the new technology, the better quality of life we have are all things to be grateful for. To be ungrateful would be to slap every person in the face who had a hand in changing the world for the better. Your life was gifted to you, a kindness done by those who came before you. Enjoy it and show them the gratitude for giving you this opportunity to be something greater.

We’ve talked about a lot, defined a bunch of words, twisted science up and around, and even touched on the spiritual side of things. But what we didn’t touch was work. As is the description of this blog, customer service is a lifestyle. We live this in all of our actions. I use generalities because I can apply these things to each aspect of my life. I may not be the top dog when it comes to true service, but I strive to make this world just a bit better. We answered the questions posed with what I think are great opportunities for individual growth. We can appreciate each day and person, no matter the context. And most importantly, we can appreciate the opportunities we have been afforded by living our life in service.

-James

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