Can You Quantify Gratitude?

Putting our fingers to the wind being a national pastime, Harris Interactive has quantified thankfulness for 2011.

In a survey of 2,463 adults conducted last month, only a third of respondents reported having more to be thankful for than they had a few years ago. Forty-five percent said they have about as much to be thankful for, while thankfully, only 18 percent said they have fewer reasons to give thanks.

Five percent weren’t sure.

The survey seems to indicate that, overall, feelings of gratitude in our nation have waned compared with how we felt in the recent past.

On the other hand, according to the respondents, we’re not entirely without reasons to be thankful:

* 85 percent are thankful for the health of their families, and the same percentage are grateful for family relationships.

* 74 percent count technology as a blessing because it helps them stay in touch with family and friends.

* Despite languishing unemployment and underemployment rates, 63 percent are thankful for their economic circumstances and 61 percent are grateful for their work situations.

* More than half of us – 56 percent – are thankful that it’s safe to walk the streets (although Harris may not have asked about walking near a Wal-Mart on Black Friday).

* We’re split on the issue of civility. Thirty-six percent are thankful for the way we treat one another, while 40 percent are not. Nineteen percent aren’t sure about that one.

The Harris website offers tables to help visualize the results of the survey, and as pollsters are wont to do, the data are packaged and repackaged according to variables such as gender, educational attainment, region of the country in which respondents live and “generation.”

Not surprisingly, there are gaps in gratitude between “echo boomers” ages 18 to 34, and “matures,” 66 and older. It appears the longer you live, the more you feel thankful for just about everything.

Yet the question, “Do you have more or less for which to be thankful?” suggests an evaluation based on where we are compared with our idea of an optimum life.

Wouldn’t a better question be, “Do you live gratefully?”

Living gratefully suggests it’s possible to be thankful even when the circumstances that typically conjure our gratitude simply aren’t there.

We all know folks who are suffering and sorrowful. Whether because of the loss of a job or a home, or the painful progression of the first round of holidays without loved ones, there is plenty of grief to go around.

Yet the New Testament tells us, “In everything, give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Everything. Not just in good times or when things turn out OK or when you have a close call but you swerve just enough to avoid a date with disaster.

In everything. In all circumstances, give thanks.

That’s a tall order. We usually fill it with the compassion and care we experience in the aftermath of heartbreak. When life leaves us hurt or harrowed, we always can point to someone or something to remind us that the dawn comes even on our darkest days.

Then again, giving thanks in everything calls us to be thankful for life itself, which invariably is filled with love and laughter, sadness and sacrifice.

We ought not ask ourselves if we have more or less to be thankful for. It’s the same year in, year out, from beginning to end: We’re meant to be thankful for life, marked by every kind of human experience, and devised for gratitude to the One who created us.

In everything – every breath and thought and moment spent in animated existence – we can choose to live gratefully, not for more or less, or better or worse off, but just because life is.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage