“Count your many blessings; name them one by one, /And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” This well known hymn may have been the first “adult” hymn many sang as children. It’s catchy tune and phrases give us something positive to carry in our minds. However, I recommend a mindset that takes out “one by one”—which slows us up. I prefer the approach taught by Amulek and handed down through the ages: “Live in thanksgiving daily” (Alma 34:38). If we live our lives in a spirit of gratitude, thankfulness becomes an aspect of our hearts and minds.
A More Excellent Approach
Dieter F. Uchtdorf pointed out, “Most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit . . . of gratitude.” He developed this idea:
Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation . . . that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.1
Gratitude weaves its way into many of the parables Jesus taught. It is so often a companion principle to faith that it may be appropriate to say gratitude proceeds the miracle. I want to put a new focus on two parables to consider how living in a spirit of gratitude would have transformed individuals’ lives.
Daily Blessings Overlooked
When the prodigal son returned, the father was overjoyed; the older brother felt overlooked and envious because he had never been publicly celebrated with robe, ring, and fatted calf. Living in a spirit of gratitude would have led him to approach this situation in a much different way.
His situation included a number of things he could have been more grateful for, which included having had plenty of time living with his father to learn from him and receive his blessings daily— while his younger brother was learning about life by making costly mistakes and suffering from them.
The older brother was blessed to have access to and eventually inherit everything his father had. The younger brother’s fall and return had not diminished anything he was entitled to—and deserved. He could have been grateful that he didn’t need to waste his inheritance to recognize that doing so was such a bad idea.
Had the spirit of gratitude been in his heart and mind, there would have been no room for anger and jealously.
Spirit of Gratitude Buried
In the Parable of the Talents, a Lord who was traveling abroad “called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods . . . to every man according to his . . . ability.” One received five talents, one was given two, and the last one had one. We don’t know whether to consider these gifts or responsibilities, but some expectations must have been involved.
Verbal thanks was not recorded (Matthew 25:14-15). However, two of the three servants expressed their gratitude by using and increasing what they had been given. The third buried his one talent in the ground.
When the lord returned, he was pleased with those who had showed their spirit of gratitude by using and doubling the amount he had given them. The only servant who was chastised was the one who had buried his talent—not using it, sharing it, or increasing it. This neglect was surely a sign of ingratitude.
Perhaps the servant excused himself because his gift was smaller or because he wasn’t confident. He knew he had received less than the others because the Lord considered him less competent. The scripture says that the servant was fearful; perhaps jealousy was also present.
“One” doesn’t seem like much unless you realize what one talent was worth: 6,000 days of labor for a man of the servant’s class.2 Ingratitude was very serious, and the servant deserved to lose the talent; being “cast into outer darkness” emphasizes how dark and serious his attitude was.
President Thomas S. Monson put the Spirit of Gratitude where it belongs: “Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.” He concluded, “My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.3