According to Thomas Aquinas gratitude has three degrees:
- Recognition of a benefit received
Recognition is a re-cognition--to know or become aware of something known previously and consider it with a changed attitude or perspective.
- Acknowledgement of the benefit: Giving Thanks
Acknowledgement is a public or open admittance of the benefit, impossible without recognition.
- Repayment in accordance means and opportunity: Pay it forward
Appreciation is the emotional or heart-center of the public declaration--acknowledgement.
Gratitude is more than Thank You; it is without obligation and saying thanks does not always imply its giving. Children learn to say please and thank you as a social etiquette, but the speaking or writing of notes requires no consideration into the process of the practice, though it may enable consideration. Saying thank you does not always include all of the three components of gratitude. A child thanking you for a cookie may be speaking habitually without thinking.
Though recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation are the components that together make gratitude, like the Unconditionals: Grace, Agapé and Forgiveness; it is also unconditional in that its positive benefits received were freely given and thus they bring no debt. Paying it forward is a natural response of the grace and agapé from which gratitude flows rather than a response of obligation. Gratitude and grace are derived from the Latin words gratus (pleasing), gratia (with favor or kindness) and gratis (free, without charge). In English gratis exists in its original form and is an adjective modifying a service or object offered without payment--for free. Gratitude is a result of being Grace-Full, a heart that is filled with Grace is organically appreciative; thus it is a response borne of feeling gracious which thus leads to gracious behavior and is a natural function of Grace.
Gratitude encourages attentiveness to what is positive, affirming goodness. Humility is an integral part of gratitude in the recognition that the benefits of life come to us not only internally, but also externally. Life is not single file. Humility also relates gratitude to surrender, which is a trust in the benefits of external power forces. Embedded within gratitude is an acknowledgement that we cannot succeed in isolation, but that our success is incumbent upon partnering with other forces--be they human, animal, spiritual, or something else--and at times allowing those forces to carry us through. Gratitude is empowering in its recognition of our powerlessness--our understanding and acceptance that we cannot do everything ourselves, but that we need help and guidance. It facilitates its own continuity by fostering benevolence and communion, opening a person's eyes to the ever-presence of agapé and reinforcing appreciation for and through each other and for ourselves. Being a recipient encourages altruism as people pass agapé to others, becoming givers through the sharing of benefits.
Gratitude is appreciation for benefits, but it is also a benefit in itself. Psychological studies have linked levels of gratitude with greater life satisfaction. An attitude of gratitude fosters emotional and spiritual well-being through its focus on blessings. This means that it becomes even more important to maintain such an attitude during times of challenge and crisis, for a focus toward what is positive enables understanding of the benefits existing even within crisis. Though a natural result of Grace, gratitude is a choice which flows more naturally in the absence of crisis. It is in times of difficulty that it becomes a more concerted effort; gratitude is a choice. The reflection and contemplation of prayer and meditation assist in opening us up to the blessings through showing the lessons, necessary actions and our personal imperfections. Literally attitude means an angle of attack; shifting one's angle by even the slightest degree alters perspective. A gracious attitude is the act of viewing through the perception of agapé.