Thankfulness, a feeling of gratitude, comes to me as a song, most often a love song.
It’s Marvin Gaye or James Taylor singing “How Sweet It Is [to be loved by you].”
It’s Louie Armstrong singing to all the 1960s protest activists that despite political fights he still saw a “Wonderful World” with “bright blessed days, dark sacred night…”
Gratitude is feeling Barbara Streisand’s longing, lonely heart when she sings “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Awareness of love of life – another definition for gratitude in my mind – begins with appreciation for the gift of time to be with other people, to share a sense of wonder in their talents, their passions, even to just watch a child grow up.
That is an emotional fit with Carole King’s romantic, yet not sexual, words when she sings “You’ve got a Friend.”
The lyrics include the line: “When you are down and troubled and you need a helping hand…Close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there…”
Love songs are not the only songs of gratitude. There are songs of thanks, appreciation, even religious principles that celebrate a spirit of gratitude.
The defining element of gratitude in Hip Hop, Country-Western, soul, Broadway standards or electronic dance music is an embrace of the people in our lives. It is gratitude for family, friends, co-workers, lovers and even strangers that across generations and culture gets people to want to lift their voices in song.
When I was younger my focus was on reaching to move up in the world, certainly to avoid of poverty by reaching for opportunity and success.
As I get older my sense of thanksgiving and gratitude is growing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
My grandson was born in San Francisco. It was a month before I traveled to meet him. The cynic in me arrived with the thought that every child is a blessing and this was another child.
But the minute he was handed to me I noticed I was crying. I had not realized that I had become emotional and was starting to cry. It was the tears rolling down my face that signaled to me the depth of feeling of for the gift of new life in the family.
This awareness of love of life – another definition for gratitude in my mind – begins with appreciation for the gift of time to be with other people, to share a sense of wonder in their talents, their passions, even to just watch a child grow up.
This hidden code of gratitude is evident everywhere if you look for it.
Songs of thanksgiving are in the hymnals. It is at the heart of religious faith – gratitude for life and God’s gift. “Amazing Grace,” is completely a song of gratitude.
I only recently found out that Van Morrison’s song “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” is not about a romantic lover but his love of God:
“Fill my heart with gladness, take away my sadness, ease my troubles - that’s what you do.”
The same sentiment of gratitude is in the prose of the Bible.
The psalms read: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
All the Gospel stories can be summarized as essentially a call for people of faith to take to heart an attitude of gratitude.
John writes: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
It is even possible to be grateful for life’s difficulties; the opportunity to face hurdles and overcome them.
And then there is the increasing focus on gratitude in modern life.
Increasing numbers of psychiatrists now focus on gratitude as key to emotional intelligence and happiness.
And more students of economics are calling attention to gratitude’s role in creating successful businesses.
The hero of modern economists looking at the impact of gratitude is Adam Smith, the 18th century economist who preached the virtue of free market capitalism. The basis of good business, he said, was a society in which people treat partners, clients, customers and the public interest with gratitude.
Smith’s principle of good business is a formula for profit in all of life.