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The Act of Gratitude: Show, Don't Tell

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Be careful and poignant in how you offer or accept gratitude. Make a visit, make a call, write a hand written note. Do something extraordinary!

I started expressing my words in writing here about this time last year. It's been an amazing journey of gifts, mostly to myself (how selfish) and for a few others I may have cajoled or motivated, or for whom I may have changed a course of action or corrected a wrongdoing. From  trust to ecology to vegan prose,  customer service and exploring how capital markets reward poor customer service, my gift has been you. Serving up a few business and personal issues to the world has been so fulfilling to me. To fall on my sword or lay it down makes me whole.

What viscerally resonated with me during this writing process is the power people give themselves to express as they need, when they feel, and how they show their best face. I have gotten the honor to embrace and be embraced by thousands of nameless faceless and wonderful folk, who bless me with their rhyme and reason and thoughts about my assertions. To know Tony is to also know my alter ego and frequent nemesis, Super Tony. In this space, they become one. I  am not grateful for that, yet thank you deeply for embracing my morph-oid.

Last year I  found an audience with the words below, and am excited to share with my new friends again. The possibilities of today are not endless. Make everything you do count. I  know I  will.

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Gratitude: The Smuggest Sentiment or the World's Second Most Selfish Act?

A great many men's gratitude is nothing but a secret desire to hook in more valuable kindnesses hereafter. (Francois de La Rochefoucauld)

We live in an era of compulsory gratefulness. Ministers scold us to thank God for all His blessings. New Age gurus demand an "attitude of gratitude." We're told we must give thanks for the slightest of gifts. It's all about being grateful, if we want to create a life lived humbly yet well.

Well, gratitude, shmatitude.

Really, you lazy person, what have you done to be so filled with all this grateful goo? More importantly, what exactly did you do to express your gratitude? Did you just talk about it? Well, shut up. Go do something useful for once. And don't talk about it.

A man's indebtedness is not virtue; his repayment is. Virtue begins when he dedicates himself actively to the job of gratitude. (Ruth Benedict)

Herded toward the corral of gratitude, most of us routinely mouth about how grateful we are. Then we show how deep our gratitude is in the most insubstantial, inadequate, even inane ways.

In fact, gratitude may be the smuggest of sentiments, the world's most selfish act this side of suicide. Its adherents are too often filled with an oozy glow devoid of any corresponding action. As we expand the grasp of our gratitude, we do little to show we actually mean it.

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. (Henri F. Amiel)

The point? Words matter. We should give thanks, of course, but that's different. Those are words, hopefully heartfelt. We should practice acts of gratitude, not just hollow attitudes of gratitude. Attitude is nothing but show. Until you've earned it, don't use it. And don't gloat about how much of it you have, either, because that isn't the point.

As a small example, what happened the last time you were treated to a lovely dinner in someone's home, where they created a fabulous meal wrapped in lively conversation? They went to a lot of trouble. You had a wonderful time.  Then you went home.

Did you  a) begin planning how to create in turn a similarly wonderful experience; b) dash off a crappy little 20-word email and hit "send"; or c) uh, forget to do anything?

Chances are, you said "b" and counted yourself a well-bred yet technologically modern person. Or maybe you just said "c" and forgot to count at all. Could you at least have taken the time to write a thoughtful thank-you card in longhand, stamp and address and mail it?

There's little in the way of actual gratitude on display here. And it only gets worse the more we embrace the attitude without the action.

It's a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation. (Roberto Benigni)

This imbalance occurs because we actively misread what many different spiritual teachers and practices have long said. And we do it because it's easier this way.

Taoists describe a circular, balanced life in their yin and yang.  Each complements the other and completes the whole. Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism suggests a unity of opposites, words and action, in building to an Enlightened whole. Jews, Christians and Muslims routinely give thanks to their God for the blessings He has given them.

But it's not enough to give thanks. All these religions balance a call to recognize our blessings with something more substantive, to actively make the world better, to show, not tell.

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You can read my complete thoughts in "The Act of Gratitude and Giving Back: Mean it When You're Grateful." Have a thankful day.

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