Can gratitude be taught? As my beloved mentor, Ben Kline would have replied, “Well, yes and no.”
When I was small I learned the ‘magic words’: please, thank you and you’re welcome. ‘Please’ when I wanted something, ‘thank you’ when I was given something, and ‘you’re welcome’ when I was thanked by another. The ‘thank you’ I learned to say was polite but it was also the first seed of expressed gratitude sown in my psyche.
While I didn’t always experience gratitude I was taught the practice of gratitude. I learned to accept the value of a gift freely given. There were times when I had physical responses to gifts: a warmth, a fullness, a knowing that this was enough. A peace, even. Through the lenses of my experience, I have come to recognize gratitude as a spiritual event.
Today, I practice gratitude even when I don’t ‘feel’ it. I say grace at every meal. Sometimes I take a moment to center and open to the gift. Sometimes I pray by rote. The practice keeps me open to the possibility of the experience. And the experience reorients me to God, to the world, and to myself.
Can gratitude be taught? Well, yes, we can teach the practice of gratitude and no, we cannot teach the experience of gratitude. But in teaching the practice we lay the groundwork for the experience.