Chapter VII Love's Lords In Waiting: Gratitude

The Gladness of a Grateful Heart.––No other Lord of the Heart should do more to guide us into joyous and happy living than Gratitude. How good and glad it is to be grateful! The joy is not merely that we have received a favour or a little kindness which speaks of goodwill and love, but that a beautiful thing has come out of some other person's beautiful heart for us; and joy in that other's beauty of character gives more delight than any gain or pleasure which can come to us from favours. We lose this joy often enough because we are too self-absorbed to be aware of kindness, or are too self-complacent to think any kindness more than our desert. Young people are apt to take the abounding, overflowing kindnesses of their parents as matters of course; and so they come to miss the double joy they might have in a touch, a word, a look, a little arrangement for their pleasure, a thousand things over and above, so to speak, the love that is due from parent to child. A kindness is like a flower that has bloomed upon you unawares, and to be on the watch for such flowers adds very much to our joy in other people, as well as to the happy sense of being loved and cared for. You go into a shop, and the shopkeeper who knows you (I am not speaking of big stores) adds a pleasant something to your purchase which sends you cheerily on your way––some little kindness of look or word, some inquiry that shows his interest in you and yours, perhaps no more than a genial smile, but you have got into pleasant human relations with him because he has given you a kindness. There are two courses open to the receiver of this small kindness. One is to feel himself such an important person that it is to the interest of shopkeepers and the like to show him attention. The other is to go away with the springing gladness of a grateful heart, knowing that he takes with him more than he has bought.

A Grateful Heart makes a Full Return.––Life would be dull and bare of flowers if we were not continually getting more than we can pay for either by money or our own good offices; but a grateful heart makes a full return, because it rejoices not only in the gift but in the giver. Formal thanks are proper enough on occasions, but there are other ways of expressing gratitude, which, indeed, is like love and a fire, and cannot be hid. A glance, a smile, a word of appreciation and recognition straight from the heart, will fill the person who has done us a kindness with pleasure. But let us avoid all expressions of thanks which are not simple and sincere––simple in that we are really thinking of the kindness of the other person and not of ourselves; and sincere, in that we do not say a word more than we feel, or make believe to value a gift for its own sake when it is really not of value to us.

The Reproach of Ingratitude.––There is an ancient story of a city which decided that ingratitude was the blackest of crimes. The people of the city were practical, and set up a bell in an open but desolate spot to be rung by any who should experience ingratitude. Time passed by and the bell was forgotten, perhaps because people were on the watch against this offence. But one day the bell rang out, and the whole city rushed to see who had a complaint to make of an ungrateful fellow-citizen. An ass had caught the rope with his foot, and as he moved about in search of the miserable herbage that grew on the spot, the bell pealed out. At first people laughed; but when they looked at the poor ass and found him a wretched object, almost too feeble to stand, they looked at one another and said, "Whose ass is this?" Inquiry produced the owner, who was forced to confess that his ass, having served him well for many years, became at last too old for his work, so he turned the poor creature out to live as it could. The people decided that the ass had acted according to law in ringing the bell; and the mean man paid the penalty, which included the good keeping of the ass, with what grace he could. To make use of other people, to serve ourselves of them, is the sin of ingratitude. The grateful man has a good memory and a quick eye to see where those who have served need service in their turn. Especially does he cherish the memory of those who have served him in childhood and in youth, and he watches for opportunities to serve them.

Gratitude spreads his feast of joy and thanksgiving for gifts that come to him without any special thought of him on the part of the giver, who indeed may himself have gone from the world hundreds of years ago. Thus he says his grace for a delightful or helpful book, for a great picture, for a glorious day, for the face of a little child, for happy work, for pleasant places. According to the saying of Jeremy Taylor, he is quick to "taste the deliciousness of his employment." He is thankful for all the good that comes to him. The poor soul who believes that life yields him nothing beyond his deserts, that it would be, in fact, impossible to give him more than he pays for, whether in coin or merit, is to be pitied for all the joy he loses, as well as blamed for the pain and irritation his progress through life must cause. "Yea, a joyful and a pleasant thing it is to be thankful!"