So here’s a Trivial Pursuit question for you that is anything but trivial: Who was the first person to ever say “Thank You” to G‑d?

OK, I’ll give you a hint; the answer is in the portion of “Vayeitzei.”

And theWho was the first person to ever say “Thank You” to G‑d? correct response (which hardly anyone gets right, by the way) is ... our matriarch Leah. She was the first person in recorded history to express gratitude to G‑d, and she did so when she gave birth to her fourth son, naming him Yehuda (Judah), from the word, hoda’ah, which means, “to thank.”

Now this raises a pretty big question. Why didn’t Leah say “thank you” when her first child was born? Or her second and third for that matter? How was it that she waited until her fourth to officially thank G‑d for this baby?

At a quick glance, we are taught that Leah understood that her husband, Jacob, was destined to have 12 sons. He had four wives, and so Leah did the math. When she gave birth to her third son, it seemed that she had been given “her share,” which would have been the case if the 12 sons were divided equally among the wives. But this fourth child was a genuine surprise. He was unexpected. Therefore, she was overwhelmed with gratitude for this extra share over and above what she had perceived to be her lot.

But does this then mean that Leah was not grateful for her first three children? Not at all! Leah faced a lot of challenges, and was filled with insecurities within her marriage and her role in her family. Yet, she was simultaneously self-aware and communicated her needs to God, and with each child, she felt blessed that this baby was the fulfillment of her prayers.

When she birthed her fourth son, however, she recognized that she had been purely gifted. It was not just that she had prayed and her prayers had been answered, but that G‑d had provided her with the greatest blessing that she hadn’t even requested. This is the child that then received the name “Yehuda” for pure, unadulterated thanks. More so, it is the reminder to us that we never fully understand (or sometimes, we never understand at all) our situations and circumstances. But when we are grateful for what we have, then we find the meaning and purpose in who we are and what we are capable of.

This is why the Jewish people have been called by many names, but in the end, we are always Yehudim“Jews” related to the name “Yehuda.” Judaism (Yehuda-ism), therefore, can be understood as the means by which we can most fully express what we are at our core—beings who are grateful to G‑d and who show that appreciation.

Ingratitude 101

Unfortunately, it seems that society has become more and more self-consumed, and one of the first things to go is the attitude of gratitude. This approach is a breeding ground for unhappiness. One of the ways we generate unhappiness is taking goodness for granted and focusing on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. When we take goodness for granted and feel that we are entitled to the good in our life, why should we be grateful? After all, it’s “what’s coming to me.” If we feel that we “deserve it,” then it’s not a “gift.” We can’t see it as a blessing. Conversely, if we are not getting what we believe to be our “fair share,” then we will be pretty unhappy. And we certainly can’t feel a sense of thanks when we are coming from a mindset of “lack.”

The Pain of Comparisons

In her book, Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff describes a woman who emerged from her annual work review floating on air. HerWhen we understand that everything is a gift, we escape the trap of entitlement boss said that he was so pleased with her performance that she was getting a 10 percent pay raise. She immediately called her boyfriend to share the good news and, being elated for her, he promised her a champagne celebration when she came home.

As she was leaving work, however, she happened to overhear a coworker talking on her cell phone to a friend. “Can you believe it?” she said, “My boss was so impressed with me that he gave me a 15 percent pay raise—5 percent more than the automatic 10 percent that everyone else got!”

When she heard that news, the 10 percent increase was no longer a cause for elation; rather, it created resentment, discontent and shame that she was not worthy of more. Since the 10 percent pay raise was what she was entitled to (and no more), she could no longer see it as a source of blessing and be grateful. Thus, a sense of entitlement kills gratitude. It helps to remember that many people are far less fortunate than you may be—and are quite happy with what they have. I saw a sign on a dorm wall that said: “What if you woke up today only with the things that you thanked G‑d for yesterday?”

When we understand that everything is a gift, then we escape the trap of an entitlement mentality. And when we develop an “Attitude of Gratitude,” then we can see and appreciate all of our many blessings.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. We often find it easy to be grateful when things are going our way, and are resentful when they are not. Think about five things that are currently not the way you want them to be. Write them down. Now, underneath that list, write down something that you can be grateful for and that is specifically related to the item above. For example: “I am overweight” (negative). “I am blessed to have plenty of food and have never gone hungry” (gratitude). Or: “I have a terrible relationship with my mother-in-law” (negative). “My children are blessed to have a grandmother in their lives and my husband to have his mother in good health” (gratitude).
  2. Think about three things you feel entitled to in your life that other people would consider blessings (i.e., I deserve a vacation for how hard I work). Now write down three ways you can immediately begin to express gratitude for those things or areas of your life.
  3. There are so many things in our lives that we don’t even recognize as blessings because they are considered “normal.” Think about how many times a “boring” day is something we complain about, rather than being grateful that nothing terrible happened.
    This week, every night before you go to sleep, think through your day and jot down everything there is to be grateful for that you often take for granted (i.e., I woke up, kids are healthy, I have my job, I got to work on time, I finished my project, etc.) You specifically want to focus on the ordinary, and each day make sure you write down some different things on your list. Each day that you make your list, write how it makes you feel to focus on these areas and to consider them blessings.