Boyd Matheson: Why gratitude matters in a world of instant gratification

As the ten lepers followed the Savior’s charge to go and show themselves unto the priests, they were healed and made whole. Luke 17 records: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

Then in one of the most powerful two-part questions ever asked the scriptures states: “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (see Luke 17:11-19).

In 1990, President James E. Faust, then second counselor in the First Presidency, taught, “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’ (Doctrine and Covenants 59:21). It is clear to me from this scripture that to “thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7) is more than a social courtesy; it is a binding commandment.”

Sadly, we live in a world that serves up a steady stream of instant gratification, which makes it easy to become entrenched in, and eventually enslaved by, an ingratitude-inducing arrogance and entitlement mentality.

William George Jordan, an American essayist (1864-1928), wrote, “Ingratitude, the most popular sin of humanity, is forgetfulness of the heart. … The individual who possesses it finds it the shortest cut to all the other vices.”

Allowing ingratitude to justify — and become the shortcut to — our own anger, greed, bitterness or jealousy is short-sighted, small-minded and cold-hearted.

The courage to face our own ingratitude may be one of the most daunting tests of personal character. Ingratitude cannot exist in the same space where awe, wonder, humility and thankfulness are found.

My mother-in-law, Joan Casper, was a most extraordinary woman who possessed an uncommon combination of grit and gratitude. I was blessed to have the chance to help with her biography.

Working alongside her husband, Bill, Joan cultivated from the dry and barren soil of the Columbia Basin in eastern Washington an apple orchard featuring thousands of fruit-filled trees. The early years were most difficult as they cleared the land, planted trees and started a family that would itself blossom to nine children, 52 grandchildren, and more than 80 great-grandchildren. 

Joan’s biography was aptly titled, “Dreams Really Do Come True.” It could have been titled, “Gratitude makes dreams come true.” She possessed a child-like awe and gratitude for everything that came her way including gifts and challenges, trials and blessings.

Once Joan’s biography was completed, I spent an afternoon in the printer’s office proofing the final manuscript with my sister Jana. The lives of Bill and Joan Casper raced off the pages as a witness of their devotion to each other, their complete commitment to serve the Lord and their gratitude for the opportunity to do hard things.  

Gratitude makes dreams come true.

At one point I looked over to see tears rolling down Jana’s cheeks. She pointed to page 98 where I read through my own tears this description from Joan about a very lean holiday season: “Bill took off a few hours on Christmas Day.  He gave me an aluminum measuring cup … for Christmas. … I was surprised he had taken the time and spent the money to buy something just for me.” 

To Joan, Bill’s time and a tin cup were worthy of wonderful awe and genuine gratitude. 

Jana whispered, “If only everyone could be that grateful for something so simple, the world would be a very different place.” I agreed. The world would be a place filled with love and gratitude — filled to overflowing — without measure! 

Properly applied, gratitude isn’t a set of behaviors as much as it is a way of living and being. Gratitude drives out greed, selfishness and entitlement, bringing in its wake a desire to lift and serve others. True gratitude is expressed by action.

Jordan concluded his thoughts on ingratitude with this challenge, “Let us conceive of gratitude in its largest, most beautiful sense, that if we receive any kindness we are debtors, not merely to one person, but to the whole world. … Let us realize that it is in kindness to all that we can begin to repay the debt to one.”

President Russell M. Nelson powerfully connected our grateful actions to our love for the Savior Jesus Christ. “When we comprehend His voluntary Atonement, any sense of sacrifice on our part becomes completely overshadowed by a profound sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving Him” (“The Atonement,” October 1996 general conference).

Patiently enduring the ingratitude of others while courageously facing and evicting the ingratitude in ourselves is the beginning of better days. Gratitude dispels destructive vices, drives the development of positive virtues and leads to thankful, purposeful and powerful covenant living.