An Attitude of Gratitude

From an address given in April 1990 general conference.
For great miracles or simple pleasures—our thanks are more than just courtesy toward God. Gratitude is a saving principle.

An Attitude of Gratitude

One of the advantages of having lived a long time is that you can often remember when you had it worse. I am grateful to have lived long enough to have known some of the blessings of adversity. My memory goes back to the Great Depression, when we had certain values burned into our souls. One of these values was gratitude for what we had, because we had so little.

We learned provident living in order to survive. Rather than create in us a spirit of envy or anger for what we did not have, it developed in many a spirit of gratitude for the simple things with which we were blessed, like hot, homemade bread and oatmeal cereal.

I remember my beloved grandmother, Mary Caroline Roper Finlinson, making homemade soap on the farm. Her recipe included rendered animal fat, a small portion of lye as a cleansing agent, and wood ashes as an abrasive. The soap had a very pungent aroma and was almost as hard as a brick. There was no money to buy soft, sweet-smelling soap.

On the farm, there were many dusty, sweat-laden clothes to be washed and many bodies that needed desperately a Saturday night bath. Bathing with homemade soap, you could become wonderfully clean, but you smelled worse after bathing than before. Since I use soap more now than I did then, I have developed a daily appreciation for mild, sweet-scented soap.

One of the evils of our time is taking for granted so many of the things we enjoy. The Lord said: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” (D&C 88:33). The Apostle Paul described our day to Timothy when he wrote that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Tim. 3:2). These sins are fellow travelers, and ingratitude makes one susceptible to all of them.

The story of the thankful Samaritan has great meaning. As the Savior “entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers” and who “lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told them to go show themselves unto the priest.

“And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

“And fell down … at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

“And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

“There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

“And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:12–19).

Leprosy was so loathsome a disease that those afflicted were not permitted under the law to come close to Jesus. (See Lev. 13:45–46.) Their forlorn cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” must have touched the Savior’s heart.

When they were healed and when they had received approval that they were acceptable in society, they must have been overcome with joy. Having received so great a miracle, they seemed completely satisfied. But they forgot their benefactor. It is difficult to understand why they were so lacking in gratitude. Such ingratitude is self-centered. It is a form of pride.

What is the significance of the fact that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan? As in the story of the good Samaritan, the point seems to be that those of lesser social or economic status often rise to a greater duty and nobility.

A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being. But there is a truism associated with all types of human strength: “Use it or lose it.” When not used, muscles weaken, skills deteriorate, and faith disappears.

Last year I found myself late at night on an airplane bulging with passengers going north from Mexico City to Culiacan. The seats in the plane were close together, and every seat was taken, mostly by the gracious people of Mexico. Everywhere inside the plane there were packages and carry-on luggage of all sizes.

A young woman came down the aisle with four small children, the oldest of which appeared to be about four and the youngest a newborn. She was also trying to manage a diaper bag, a stroller, and some bags. The children were tired, crying, and fussing. As she found her seat in the airplane, the passengers around her, both men and women, literally sprang to her aid. Soon the children were being lovingly and tenderly comforted and cared for by the passengers. They were passed from one passenger to another all over the airplane.

The result was an airplane full of baby-sitters. The children settled down in the caring arms of those who cradled them and, before long, went to sleep. Most remarkable was that a few men who were obviously fathers and grandfathers tenderly cradled and caressed the newborn child without any false, macho pride. The mother was freed from the care of her children for most of the flight.

The only thing I felt bad about was that no one passed the baby to me! I relearned that appreciation for and thoughtfulness and kindness to little children are an expression of the Savior’s love for them.

Gratitude is not only an expression of faith; it is a saving principle. The Lord has said, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21). It is clear to me from this scripture that to “thank the Lord thy God in all things” (D&C 59:7) is more than a social courtesy; it is a binding commandment.

“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).

[illustration] © Providence Lithograph Company