Sam Radford

April 12, 2021

Don’t just experience gratitude, express it

Years ago I heard a preacher say, ‘Love unexpressed is a pretty useless thing’.

It stayed with me. Making the point that it’s not enough to feel love towards others; we have to show people and tell them. Don’t assume they know. Or that saying it in the past is enough. We need to continually express love to the people we love.

I was reminded of this quote listening to Adam Grant’s recent interview on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global podcast. But rather than focussing on love, Grant spoke about gratitude. Pointing people to the podcast, he tweeted:

The point of gratitude is not just to feel it; it's to show it. Experiencing gratitude serves our happiness. Expressing it reminds others how they matter. As an emotion inside a journal, gratitude is fleeting. As an action in the outer world, it lasts. 

Many of us – myself included – have added gratitude practices to our lives in recent years. The science keeps telling us that gratitude is good for us. Good for our physical, mental, and emotional health. And so we’ve started to keep gratitude journals or fill gratitude jars.

This is a good thing. It is good for our well-being. Having a practice of reflecting on all the good things in our life is important. But why stop there?

Gratitude at this level is only benefiting one person: me. It may be going too far to say unexpressed gratitude is selfish, but Grant is making the point that it isn’t enough. From the podcast, he says:

At some point, what I realized is one of the greatest acts of giving that you can undertake is to make the other givers in your life feel appreciated. 

Now, sure, there are plenty of material things we may choose to be grateful for. A house to live in. Food to eat. Technology that makes our lives easier. But, ultimately, the most significant gratitude is related to people. Those around us who have helped, shaped, lifted, supported, guided, encouraged, and provided for us.

And, as Grant makes clear, that’s not always about expressing thanks in the moment. It can be years later. Again, speaking on the podcast, he says:

The only way that you can [show appreciation] is to go out of your way to show gratitude and for me, that’s, that’s rarely in the moment. It’s more often months, or even years later when the person has forgotten the act or the moment has faded from their memory, but it still sticks with me. And so the practice I’ve most enjoyed during the pandemic is finding some of the people I’ve lost touch with and letting them know how, you know, eight, nine years ago, they really fundamentally affected my life in a positive way.

I love this! I don’t know about you, but this immediately has me thinking about the people I need to reach out to and make sure they know I am thankful for them.

Gratitude as something expressed and not merely experienced feels like a pathway to a richer, fuller version of this practice.

How has the practice of gratitude – whether experienced or expressed – helped you? Does the idea of expressing gratitude to others more and not just experiencing it for yourself resonate? I'd love to hear from you – just hit reply or drop me a note.