Thank you for being part of the Civic Renaissance community!
I am grateful that you have chosen to spend time here.
This week, we’ll explore:
How gratitude can improve our lives
Word of the week: gen, which means to birth in both Greek and Latin
Why everyone can be generous
Gratitude as an antidote to self-centeredness
In preparation for our conversation tomorrow—on the promise of gratitude to revive American civic life, in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy—I’ve been reflecting on gratitude.
(I hope you’ll join us for the discussion with my lovely friend and colleague at the Lilly School, Una Osili, and my friend and fellow writer AJ Jacobs! You can register here.)
As part of my preparation, I’ve enjoyed reading some interesting research on gratitude from the Lilly School’s Dr. Patrick Dwyer. Dr. Dwyer offers some helpful reminders on the benefits of gratitude—personally, relationally, and socially.
Personally, he finds that grateful people are more joyful people. They also get better sleep, are less depressed, deal more easily with stress—and, interestingly, they are also more generous toward others.
Relationally, gratitude can help bond us with others. There is nothing more beautiful than a sincere expression of thanks. It elevates both the giver and the receiver. Gratitude that is other-oriented—that focuses on the generosity of the giver—is especially useful in making the giver feel appreciated.
Communally, our gratitude helps those that observe our gratitude, too. I found this particularly interesting. It’s not just two people—the receiver and the giver—who are blessed by sincere thanks. Those who witness it are elevated and more generous as well. In other words, our acts of generosity and gratitude have a ripple effect that extends beyond ourselves. What a beautiful thought.
Expressions of generosity
Generosity, it would seem, is the inverse—or perhaps the corollary—of gratitude. We show thanks to those who have been generous with us.
The root of the word generosity is the word gen, which in means birth in both Greek and Latin. As you might expect, gen is the root of our words genes, genesis, generate, generation, and more. (How many other words in English can you think of that likely spring from the root gen?)
More surprisingly, gen is also the root of our words generous, gentry, and gentlemen.
Gen led to the word generous because it was long thought that only the wealthy—the gentry, gentlemen—could be generous.
But we know this isn’t the case. Today, we can each be generous, because we each have important things to offer the world.
It’s not only people with financial means who have resources with which they can be generous.
For example, we all can be emotionally generous in our conversations with others: We can assume the best, address the strongest arguments, and give others the benefit of the doubt.
We can also be intellectually generous, entertaining a wide variety of ideas that we may find offensive of disagree with, seeking to understand perspectives and people that differ from our own.
And yes, we can be practically generous. But you don’t need to have ample of material wealth to do so. We can be generous with our time, our connections to others, with our hospitality, and so much more.
Gratitude as an antidote to self-centeredness
The stoic philosopher Seneca believed that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Because the grateful man is one “who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”
In my book on civility, I argue that two fundamental aspects of our human nature are our self-interestedness and our sociability.
These two characteristics are in tension.
We’re driven meet our own needs before others, yet we need others to be truly happy and to lead meaningful lives.
Civility, I argue, is the process of overcoming our selfish natures so that our social natures might thrive.
Gratitude can help us do that.
In helping us to focus on what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we shift ourselves into an attitude of abundance instead of scarcity. Small annoyances are relegated to their proper place in our minds and lives, because we know that they are outweighed by the many blessings we enjoy.
Gratitude can combat our inherent selfishness, get our eyes off of ourselves, allow us to focus more on others, and help us lead better, fuller lives in relationship with others.
As a small token of my gratitude to each of you for being part of the Civic Renaissance community, I’m giving away THREE copies of my friend AJ Jacobs’ book on gratitude.
AJ is my co-panelist tomorrow, where he’ll share about his journey to thank every single person responsible for our morning coffee—the topic of his book, Thanks a Thousand!
If you’d like a copy, please send me note with the subject line GRATITUDE to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll select winners after our event tomorrow.
I am grateful to you!
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from English writer G. K. Chesterton: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”