The Divine Gift of Gratitude
Gratitude is more than a feeling or an attitude, it is a way of life.
When we delve into the etymological meaning of the expression “Thank you”, we often find people that ask “What would be the best way to thank you?” How do we properly express our gratitude?
Interestingly enough, we find a good explanation of the different levels of gratitude from Saint Thomas Aquinas in his work “Summa Theologica.” Thomas Aquinas teaches on his treatise of gratitude that the gratitude consists in varying degrees of thankfulness. For him, Appreciation has three levels: 1) A superficial level, 2) An intermediate level, and 3) A deeper level.
“Appreciation can make a day – even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary. ~ Margaret Cousins
The fist level of gratitude is the surface level; it is to recognize the benefit received, obtain grace, accepting a favor. It is the level of recognition, intellectual recognition, cerebral level, the cognitive level of recognition.
The second level is the level of gratitude; it is to praise and give thanks to him who gave us something free in exchange for nothing. It is giving blessings back to someone for what that person has done for us.
The third degree, according to Thomas Aquinas is the level of reciprocity. And the third deepest level of gratitude we find the level of bound, and feeling of commitment towards those that had helped us. With this level, Reciprocity is pledged, according to its possibilities, according to the most opportune circumstances of time and place.
Gratitude and Linguistics:
“It only takes a moment to thank you – but your thoughtfulness will be remembered a long time.” ~Unknown
Different languages express their feeling in different ways. Each of them is more able to express the levels of gratitude stated by the Thomas Aquinas discourse.
He observed that in saying “Thank You” in English or "Zu Danken" in German, we practice the first level of thankfulness, taking it coldly, in the first dimension, that is, only by the recognition of the grace received. We thank them at the intellectual plane.
In European languages, the expression of gratefulness can be very different. Most other European languages, when professing appreciation and thanks, they thank using the intermediate level of gratitude, going beyond the second level of appreciativeness. When you say "Merci" in French, means to give a mercy, to give grace: “I give him a favor, I thank you, I give you a mercy for what brought to me, for what you gave me.” In Spanish, thank you is said “Gracias” and in Italian, it is "Grazie" and in Latin "Gratias". Therefore, in languages originated from the Latin root, we find that the expression of gratitude also invokes a mercy or blessing of equal magnitude upon the one that has given the help, or that had bestowed the favor.
“I give him a grace for what you gave me, and that is that I thank you, that is what I am grateful to you.”
Nevertheless, we shall mention the special and the most profound linguistic expression of thankfulness that comes from the Portuguese language.
The Portuguese formulation of appreciation is so charming and unique, as it is that can be the only one to be located clearly in the third degree, the deepest level of gratitude.
Thank you in Portuguese is “Obrigado”, a derivative of the word "Obligation." It expresses the bond (ob-ligatus), or the duty to repay the favor. The derivative of the Portuguese Obrigado can be found on the Arigato in Japan, also as an expression of gratitude.
“I am obligated to you. I'm bound to you. I am committed to dialogue, thanking you for your invitation, thanking you for your attention. I am destined to contribute to the best of my ability, to your projects, to your work."
We may conclude that the level of appreciation are closely linked to the way we think and express ourselves. The way we think, ponder and recognize our benefactors.
Thus, it takes humility to accept unmerited favor, it is a duty to give back, but accompanied with the awareness that it may be impossible to fully comply with the commitment.
The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. ~ Dalai Lama
[1} Gratitude in Japanese: Domo- Thank you, not as polite as arigato. Domo and arigato can be combined ("Domo arigato") and then become a politer form of thank you.