For me, gratitude has always meant so much more than merely saying "thank you". Sure "thank you" is important, it sets the tone and lays the structural foundation.
However, for one to feel and experience true gratitude, it has to go beyond that initial step and level.
An article written by Dr Kim Blackham spells out the 3 levels she perceives to be necessary to feel and experience true gratitude. She refers to them as the Magic Words Level, the 'Gratitude Attitude' Level, and the Worthiness Level.
Let's look at each level individually.
The Magic Words Level
This is the level that everyone associates with gratitude, the level where you wave 'thank you' to the driver who stopped to let you safely walk across the pedestrian crossing, the level where you show a smile of appreciation towards the waiter who has just topped up your glass with wine from the bottle on your table without you asking him to do so.
This is the very first and basic level of gratitude that everyone practices when they start out on their gratitude journey and it is the foundation of gratitude that stays with you as you journey further. However, until you make gratitude a habit, you may believe that this is all there is to gratitude and you'll be forever blissfully unaware of the other two, deeper levels.
Let me share an example from my personal life, which I'll use throughout all 3 levels to paint a picture of each level and how much deeper it goes. Hopefully it will be something you can relate to.
I am the proud aunt of 2 nieces and 1 nephew. When I send them gifts at Christmas, or whenever, inevitably I'll receive a phonecall from them during which they thank me for the gift I sent. The act of saying thank you, of picking up the phone to express their gratitude (even though it's probably under the encouragement of my sister, their mother), that's fulfilling the Magic Words Level of gratitude, where you do, indeed, express (or hear) those magic words, "thank you".
Without this fundamental stage you cannot begin to comprehend the next 2 stages of gratitude.
The 'Gratitude Attitude' Level
Where in the example above I can appreciate that my sister was the instigator of the expression of thanks from her children to me, their aunt. The second stage of gratitude is where you learn to embody gratitude, where gratitude becomes more automatic, a habit.
When we reach this level of gratitude, our behaviour begins to change. Gratitude becomes much more than a mere expression of words, it goes to the deeper level of considering another person's worth.
What do I mean by that?
Well, when you express gratitude for something, you tend to express it to someone (or to the Universe). In other words, there's another party involved, not just you.
When you reach the 'Gratitude Attitude' level, your gratitude is more likely to revolve around your appreciation of the person who did what they did for you. This level of gratitude goes beyond considering purely the self, the receiver.
So in the example from above with my nieces and nephews, the gratitude phonecall will be one that is made as a result of their own initiative because they appreciate the time, thought and effort that went into choosing and sending the gift to them. It takes the level 1 "thank you for giving us this" to a level 2 of "thank you for giving us this, we appreciate the effort and kindness involved in choosing and sending this to us".
When we find we freely express our gratitude (level 1) and also consider the other person's role (or sacrifice) (level 2), only then can we move to appreciate and comprehend the deepest level of gratitude, level 3
The Worthiness Level
Here we reflect the act of the other person back onto ourselves again and appreciate how worthy they deemed us to be. In level 1 we started with 'me' (thank you for the gift) before moving onto 'you' in level 2 (the time and effort you put into choosing it) before returning back to self, 'me', again and appreciating and being thankful your worthiness in the process.
You can sum up this level through the thought, "they thought me worthy enough of receiving this".
If you were not deemed worthy of receiving whatever the other person gave or did for you, gratitude would never have happened in the first place. That can sometimes be challenging to get your head around because many of us are so caught up in our mistaken sense and belief of our unworthiness. So this level of thinking and understanding gratitude can often make us feel uncomfortable as it often invites us to go against our natural grain and sense of unworthiness.
However, through understanding and comprehending gratitude at this deepest level, your sense of worthiness can begin to strengthen and flourish.
If we consider the example we have used for the previous levels, the example of receiving that phonecall of gratitude from my nieces and nephew, we would have, "thank you for giving us this, we appreciate the effort and kindness involved in choosing and sending this to us. We know you sent us this gift because you love us."
This final sentence, "We know you sent us this gift because you love us", tells me that not only are my nieces and nephew grateful for the gift but that they recognise their importance in my life.
Gratitude at this level acknowledges who you (the receiver) are in the relationship and your acceptance of your value in that role, that you are seen, that you are worthy, that you are loved. No longer are you just an object.
Isn't that just beautiful?
And the opposite is true when you express gratitude at this deepest level to someone. You are saying thank you (level 1), not just to be polite, but because you appreciate the effort, the sacrifice that person has made for you (level 2) because of your value to them (level 3).
When we practise gratitude at this deepest level we view it as a reflection, an acknowledgement, and, therefore, an acceptance of our worth.
This means that when we choose to fully embrace and practice gratitude we are accepting ourselves as worthy of love, giving ourselves permission to be loved, and acknowledging another's care or love for us. It's when we reach this deepest stage of gratitude that we transcend from acknowledging the deed done to accepting and embracing the motive and meaning behind the deed.