5 thoughts from Latter-day Saint leaders on the meaning of gratitude

For one Thanksgiving feast in the mid 1990s, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife counted 63 people at their home.

Speaking to a BYU devotional audience in 1995, then-Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles related how his wife, Sister Dantzel Nelson, distributed a sheet of paper to each person with the heading, “This year, I am thankful for …” and each person was instructed to complete the thought in writing or by drawing a picture.

As each paper was collected and read aloud, President Nelson observed a pattern, he said.

“Generally, the children were thankful for food, clothing, shelter, family (and, occasionally, pets). Their pictures were precious, though not likely to be shown in an art gallery,” President Nelson said. “Our youth broadened their expressions to include gratitude for their country, freedom and Church. The adults noted most of those items, but in addition mentioned the temple, their love of the Lord and appreciation for his Atonement. Their hopes were combined with gratitude.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gestures to attendees at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gestures to attendees at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

“Counting blessings,” he concluded, “is better than recounting problems.”

While delivering a general conference address in April 2012, President Nelson shared this thought on the subject of gratitude.

“How much better it would be if all could be more aware of God’s providence and love and express that gratitude to Him,” President Nelson said. “Ammon taught, ‘Let us give thanks to (God), for he doth work righteousness forever’ (Alma 26:8). Our degree of gratitude is a measure of our love for Him.”

As thoughts turn to counting blessings during this Thanksgiving holiday season, here are some additional thoughts from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the meaning of gratitude and thankfulness.

What is gratitude?

In his book, “Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes,” President Gordon B. Hinckley devoted an entire chapter to the topic of gratitude. Here are four excerpts:

“Gratitude is a sign of maturity. It is an indication of sincere humility. It is a hallmark of civility. And most of all, it is a divine principle. I doubt there is anything in which we more offend the Almighty than in our tendency to forget his mercies and to be ungrateful for which he has given us.

“Gratitude is the beginning of civility, of decency and goodness, of a recognition that we cannot afford to be arrogant. We should walk with the knowledge that we will need help every step of the way.

President Gordon B. Hinckley speaks to the congregation at the groundbreaking of the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple in South Jordan, Utah, Saturday Dec. 16, 2006.
President Gordon B. Hinckley speaks to the congregation at the groundbreaking of the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple in South Jordan, Utah, Saturday Dec. 16, 2006. Credit: August Miller, Deseret News, August Miller/ Deseret Morning N

“When we walk with gratitude, we do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, but rather with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to us and will bless our lives. We should all be thankful to the Almighty for His wonderful blessings upon us. We have all that this great age has to offer in the world. How lucky can we be, really? We ought to be grateful, to be thankful, to walk with appreciation and respect for the blessings of life and happiness that we enjoy.

“Gratitude is the very essence of worship — thanksgiving to the God of Heaven, Who has given us all that we have that is good.”

Gratitude in the scriptures

In his October 2010 address, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” President Thomas S. Monson drew upon the scriptures to teach principles of gratitude.

When Jesus healed 10 lepers but only one returned to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19).

President Thomas Monson waves to the congregation after a session of general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2007, in Salt Lake City.
President Thomas Monson waves to the congregation after a session of general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2007, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News

When Jesus used seven loaves of bread and a few fish to feed more than 4,000 (Matt. 15:32-38).

Doctrine and Covenants 59: 7, 21 and Alma 34:38 remind Latter-day Saints to give thanks to the Lord “in all things” and “live in thanksgiving daily.”

“Regardless of our circumstances,” President Monson said, “each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will pause and contemplate our blessings.”

President Monson continued: “We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

President Monson concluded with this thought.

“My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven,” he said.

Heartfelt gratitude

In his October 2008 talk, “Pray Always,” Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostle taught that prayer becomes more meaningful as we express “heartfelt gratitude.”

Elder Bednar related an experience when he and his wife knelt in prayer with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A family friend had passed away that day and although the Bednars wanted to pray for the surviving spouse and family, the Church leader had suggested they only express “appreciation for blessings received and ask for nothing.”

Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, speak during a fireside at BYU Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.
Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, speak during a fireside at BYU Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Susan Bednar followed this counsel and thanked the Lord “for meaningful and memorable experiences with this dear friend” and expressed appreciation for the comforting Holy Ghost and the plan of salvation.

The Bednars learned a valuable lesson from that experience about “the power of thankfulness in meaningful prayer,” Elder Bednar said.

“We learned that our gratefulness for the plan of happiness and for the Savior’s mission of salvation provided needed reassurance and strengthened our confidence that all would be well with our dear friends. We also received insights concerning the things about which we should pray and appropriately ask in faith,” Elder Bednar said. “The most meaningful and spiritual prayers I have experienced contained many expressions of thanks and few, if any, requests.”