“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero
“I would not reproach, but I would praise.” – Cormac Mac Art
I first heard the word buíochas in an Gaelic lesson on weather expressions! A common response to saying “it is a fine day” is sometimes followed by, “Tá cinnte, buíochas le Día“, or “It is indeed, thank God.” Not only is the word powerful with meaning it is also *feels* good to utter! Pronounced roughly (bwee-xchus), in the Donegal dialect. Cool huh?
So what exactly is buíochas, or gratitude and appreciation? Well it is definitely a sense of pleasure at receiving something in your life, material, spiritual, or mental, does not seem to matter. Receiving creates a sense of gratitude that your life has been enriched in some way. From my perspective there are three different places inside gratitude:
Reception is, of course, the beginning of gratitude, the phenomenon of receiving some quality or enrichment to one’s experience. Reception can come in the form of knowledge. Learning more about a skill, learning a new fact or having a startling spiritual revelation. Reception can come in the form of physical touch or care. Being caressed by a lover, hugged by a friend, or attended to when sick. Reception can come in the form material enrichment. Receiving well earned wages, gifts, or any other material boon that impacts you in a positive way. The reception of gratitude itself can also be extremely fulfilling, one of those powerful times when gratitude creates gratitude.
What also seems clear is that the initial reception of something, whether action or knowledge, may not necessarily be followed by the immediate experience of buíochas. Everyone has experienced receiving something that creates a negative emotional reaction. A negative reception of knowledge for example might be learning that you have cancer. A negative reception of physical touch may be a right cross to the jaw. A negative reception of material may be loosing a job that ensured financial stability. In all of these cases the initial feelings may be very negative. But this does not necessarily mean that experiencing gratitude never follows. Learning that one has cancer is always a negative experience, but many who have overcome their cancer have reported a feeling of gratitude for it’s reception as a life changing event. Being hit with a right cross is never pleasant. But taken in the context of martial arts training (or simply mouthing off as I have done in the past) the same experience of pain can be a learning experience. Loosing a job can be very scary initially, but ends up leading to other employment with greater promise.
Experience is the feeling of gratitude itself. The depth or intensity of feeling relates to whatever it is that one has received as well as ones personal cosmology or circumstance. This experience is highly individual in the sense that one person receiving a dollar, who has no money, may experience gratitude more intensely than another who is financially flush. It follows then that the experience of gratitude is not only based on whatever is received, but also depends on your ability to receive it. Therefore, gratitude and the experience of it can be cultivated to higher and higher levels.
The experience of gratitude was studied in depth recently by Robert A. Emmons (University of California, Davis) and Michael E. McCullough (University of Miami). What they found was that the experience of gratitude had a number of positive effects. Examples of which included, better physical health, better interpersonal relationships, better goal achievement, and more harmonious family environments.1 “Gratitude triggers oxytocin, a bonding hormone, said Rollin McCraty of the Institute of HeartMath in California. As a result, the nervous system relaxes. McCraty said gratitude also is associated with more harmonious electric activity around the heart and brain, allowing more effective operation.”2 Clearly the benefits of gratitude go beyond the mental and spiritual, and can effect physical characteristics of the body.
Action is what then results from the experience of gratitude. I believe that the more we act on feelings of gratitude the more we deepen our experience of it. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word of thanks, sometimes something more memorable that lets the giver know exactly how much their gesture meant to you. Either way the act that results because of gratitude enhances the feeling for all involved. Acting out of a sense of indebtedness, however, is very different than acting out of pure gratitude. The former is based in fear, the latter in love or goodwill. In all things cultivate gratitude in action, not indebtedness in action. In a pagan context I believe that a genuine feeling of gratitude when it accompanies an offering (bread, chocolate, mead etc.) heightens it’s meaning and power not only for yourself but the gods and spirits that are being offered to. In fact, without gratitude, offerings are theater.
Gratitude is becoming extremely important. When each of us cultivates a real sense of gratitude to the gods and goddesses (or the Divine in general for all of you non-polytheists out there), the land we live on, and each other, we enable the continued survival of life. I am reminded of a Hopi story of the First World. When the people asked the Creator if he had any instructions to them he said (and I am paraphrasing from memory here), “No, only that you are grateful for what has been made for you”. Just like Cicero’s quote above, I do feel that gratitude is where all virtue finds it’s source, and is the safety net for all others when they may fail. When Cormac Mac Art (may he return to us someday) speaks of praise instead of reproach, it is a profound teaching. It reminds us that we can get more out of each other and the world when we concentrate on giving praise and appreciation where it is due, and by so doing, give birth to gratitude.
1. Lynch, Tim. “Highlights from the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness”.
2. Sonja Haller (2008, November 24). Gratitude can help your health, marriage and more. The Arizona Republic.