Gratitude: humility for the smug

Today’s post is an essay written by one of my English Composition II students, Kyle Hill, who happens to be an amazing writer and critical thinker. Kyle wrote this essay in response to a question regarding his motivation for expressing gratitude. It has been a privilege to teach Kyle, and I can’t wait to see what God does with him over the next few years. 

Little progress can be made with a closed mind.  As Albert Einstein once said, “A problem isn’t solved with the same level of consciousness that created it.” Personally, most of my positive character development has occurred amidst the humility resulting from an often self-imposed disaster.  While reeling in the aftermath of a fight with loved ones, the guilt of bad behavior, or a harsh court sentence, humility opens my mind. Before such incidents, I am often stubborn and arrogant, unwilling to listen and unmotivated to curtail my behavior. After my world comes crumbling down, as it has many times, I am blessed with both willingness and a keen ear for suggestion. With the newfound enthusiasm for character development that is brought on by failure, much progress is made. Then the humility slowly wears off. Arrogance, pride, and pretention creep back in and set me up for yet another self-inflicted crisis.  If only humility had a longer shelf life, but it doesn’t. Try as I may, I cannot maintain humility. If, through a miraculously divine act, I was granted eternal humility, I would end up bragging about it to friends and strangers. A substitute for humility is needed for my continued growth.  The only sufficient substitute for humility I have found is gratitude.

The problem with humility is that it is a feeling. Feelings never last. Whether it be extreme happiness or abysmal despair, emotions are temporary. Gratitude, on the other hand, is an action I can take regardless of how I may be feeling. I can thank my family for their patience and understanding. I can thank my friends for their support and encouragement. Both teachers and mentors can be thanked for going the extra mile. Never is my character more honorable than when my actions are guided by gratitude. Self-respect runs rampant when I do something nice for the many loved people in my life. Sharing a list of the superficial things in my life that I am grateful for is both self-centered and also does little to improve the lives of those around me. I prefer to take actual, loving actions to express my gratitude. I help the people I love because I am truly grateful for them. Help may be lending an ear to their troubles or assistance with a menial task. Help may be as small as an invite to the coffee shop, with the promise of good laugh, or as large as making a house payment for a friend in need. Talk is cheap. Love is an action.The actions of gratitude infect my mind.

After a session of gratitude driven actions, something peculiar happens inside of me. The too familiar feelings of pride, greed, and arrogance subside, and I see just how lucky I am. I am not thankful for my morning coffee; I am thankful for the unearned ability to attain it. I am not thankful for the roof over my head; I am thankful for the undeserved skills I have been blessed with that ultimately provide the roof. Most, if not all, of the truly great, beautiful things in my life are gifts. I neither earned the countless blessings in my life nor did I conjure them into being. Whether it be the product of luck or the grace of the Divine, I have done very little to warrant such a fantastic existence. Humility is elusive to me, but my gratitude is beyond abundant.

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