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Reflections on Gratitude

I recently read a definition of the word “gratitude” that I believe was spot on. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for something of value which you did not create, something that has a source outside of yourself. When you understand that the blessings of life come from a source outside yourself, you should also recognize that they did not come from you.

However, this is our problem. We want to take all the credit for what we do and what we accomplish. This is the heart of pride and arrogance. And it comes so natural to us.

Tim Keller says that pride claims to be the author of everything good we do and accomplish. Therefore we believe we deserve all the credit. He says it is a form of cosmic plagiarism, where you have been given something as a gift but then you take all the credit for it and say, “I did it; it is my work.”

In the Old Testament, Moses said that arrogance is looking at your life, your abilities, and your achievements, and thinking in your heart that it is your strength, your power, and your ability that has led to all your success. Humility helps you to recognize that all you are and all you have is a gift from God and a result of other people contributing to your life.

I often share a powerful, true story in my speeches because it enables us to see the clear contrast between pride and humility and also the importance of gratitude. The story comes from Stephen K. Scott’s book, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived.

My former church pastor, Dr. Jim Borror, while visiting a church in the Northwest, was asked by a woman to meet with her husband, a multimillionaire entrepreneur with thousands of employees. Although this man had tens of millions of dollars and everything money could buy, he was unhappy, bitter, and cantankerous. No one liked being around him, and contention and strife followed him wherever he went. He was disliked by his employees and even his children. His wife barely tolerated him.

When he met the man, Dr. Borror listened to him talk about his accomplishments and quickly realized that pride ruled this man’s heart and mind. He claimed he had single-handedly built his company from scratch. Even his parents hadn’t given him a dime. He had worked his way through college.

                Jim said, “So you did everything by yourself.”

                “Yep,” the man replied.

                Jim repeated, “No one ever gave you anything.”

                “Nothing!”

So Jim asked, “Who changed your diapers? Who fed you as a baby? Who taught you how to read and write? Who gave you your first job after college? Who serves food in your company’s cafeteria? Who cleans the toilets in your company’s rest rooms?” The man hung his head in shame. Moments later, with tears in his eyes, he said, “Now that I think about it, I haven’t accomplished anything by myself. Without the kindness and efforts of others, I probably wouldn’t have anything.” Jim nodded and asked, “Don’t you think they deserve a little thanks?”

That man’s heart was transformed, seemingly overnight. In the months that followed, he wrote thank-you letters to every person he could think of who had made a contribution to his life. He wrote thank-you notes to every one of his 3,000 employees. He not only felt a deep sense of gratitude, he began to treat everyone around him with respect and appreciation.

When Dr. Borror visited him a year or two later, he could hardly recognize him. Happiness and peace had replaced the anger and contention in his heart. He looked years younger. His employees loved him for treating them with the honor and respect that true humility engenders.

In this story you see the dark side of arrogance and what it can do to a person’s life and relationships. This man was disliked by everyone with whom he came into contact. Most significantly, he took all the credit for their contributions to his accomplishments. Clearly he had no awareness of the pride that ruled his heart and mind.

Once he had been wisely confronted by Dr. Borror, a major transformation took place in his life. As he began to give people proper credit that was due them, and offer his gratitude to them, everything changed. Not only did it impact the relationships he had with others, but it transformed this man’s life. He learned what I consider one of life’s great truths: Humble people are grateful people.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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