It is true that in any situation a person can construct their intent either on what they can get or on what they can give. The degree to which a person constructs their intent and what they can give is the degree to which that person plays a constructive role in a group, contributes as a member of a team, leads people successfully and experiences security, fulfillment, power and harmony in their personal life.

It must be pointed out, though, that the intent to give is not about being nice, it is about being appropriate. If a hungry child asks you for food the appropriate thing would be to give the child food. If, on the other hand, you notice somebody bullying a child the appropriate thing would be to confront that person. The quality that you would require to give food to the hungry child would be generosity and the quality that you would require to confront the bully would be courage. Giving is therefore not about being nice, it is about acting consistently with either the generosity or the courage that’s operative in the situation that you’re in.

Receiving excess of your due

Both generosity and courage are concerned with acts in the world. It makes no sense to speak about being generous unless you’ve given something, or to be courageous unless you’ve confronted something. However, it is important to note that there are internal qualities that are consistent with the intent to be generous or courageous. The inner equivalent of generosity is gratitude. To be generous does not mean to give with the expectation of getting something back in the future, it means to give to give away. Being grateful means that you are of the view that you’ve received in excess of your due. It is precisely the insight that you’ve received more than your due that puts you in the position to give to give away.

The inner equivalent of courage is trust. If I do not know whether I can trust somebody then the only way I could find out that I can trust them is to take a risk with them, in other words do something courageous, which will give me the information that I require to know whether I can trust them or not. Having earned some trust, it is easier for me to take a second risk with that person. In this sense my courage enables my trust and my trust enables my courage.

The future VS the past

Gratitude and generosity are orientated toward the past. If I’m grateful I am grateful for something that has happened, if I’m being generous I give away what I have already accumulated. On the other hand, trust and courage are orientated toward the future. When I trust I trust that things will be well, when I’m courageous I don’t run away as the enemy comes over the hill. This suggests that of the four categories of gratitude, generosity, trust, and courage gratitude has pride of place. It is the quality that enables the rest.

We have already indicated that if I am grateful then it is easy for me to be generous. Also, if I’m grateful, if I’m convinced that I’ve received in excess of my due, then it is easy for me to look forward in a spirit of trust because when I look backward at the past, I see that things have gone in my favor. And clearly the trust that gets developed on this basis makes it easy for me to take a courageous step.

Gratitude and it’s Antonym

In this sense we can therefore posit that all moral action, all intent to give, is based on gratitude. We can go even further to suggest that without gratitude there can be no moral action. This suggests that if the key to getting things right is to be grateful, then the key to getting things wrong is to be resentful. To be resentful means to disable one’s intent to give. If I’m convinced that I have been done in in the past I would not want to give anybody some anything else, I also wouldn’t trust things going into the future and I would therefore behave in risk averse and cowardly ways.

The role of the gratitude journal is to constantly rehearse to oneself the many things that spontaneously go right which do not require our personal management of the affair. This constant reminder creates an inner climate of gratitude which produces the abundance of spirit that enables the rest of our moral action. A gratitude journal maybe as simple as recording a set number of things (like 10) that have gone right within the last day that one cannot account for on the basis of one’s own ingenuity. These could be anything from a colleague being kind to one, to having had a good night’s sleep, to having eyes that work and lungs that breathe and so on.

The effects of a Gratitude Journal

One often finds a tremendous release of energy and of good feeling at the beginning of starting a gratitude journal. When done consistently it quickly provides one with overwhelming evidence that your life works by a mechanism which is far bigger than your ability to manage. You begin to accumulate a substantial body of firsthand experiences that enable you to trust life, give easily and do courageous things.

However, it is possible that after some time the journaling is experienced to be a bit humdrum and no longer has the mood effect that had had when you started. When this starts to occur it is useful to do the following meditation based on reflecting on how your life would be if any of the blessing that you have listed were not there.

Let’s say for example that in this morning’s journal I indicated that I was grateful for the fact that I can breathe. This reflective technique requires me to imagine what it would be like of I could not breathe easily. What it would be like if I had to struggle for every breath, if I had to stay alive reliant on some artificial means to continue breathing. This imaginary exercise should be continued for as long as necessary, until one is deeply convinced on what a tremendous boon being able to breathe is. It may also be helpful to do this thought experiment on a number of the elements listed in your gratitude journal.

Consistently reminding yourself of what there is to be grateful for, produces a deep conviction of the abundance of your life. It is that conviction that lies at the root of the intent to give, which translates into a secure and fulfilled life and constructive relationships with other people.


Leave a Reply