Taking Things with Gratitude, and Not Taking Things for Granted

G. K. Chesterton? Hugh Gesshugh? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Thanksgiving season reminds me of a notion that I have seen expressed in three different ways:

Instead of taking things for granted, we should take them with gratitude.

We must learn to take things with gratitude instead of taking them for granted.

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

This thought has been credited to the influential English writer and commentator to G. K. Chesterton, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: “The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton” appeared in 1936 which was the last year of the author’s life. He offered the following guidance to his readers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . I hope it is not pompous to call the chief idea of my life; I will not say the doctrine I have always taught, but the doctrine I should always have liked to teach. That is the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted.

A statement formatted as a straightforward injunction or a clear-cut aphorism facilitates transmission and radiation. The above statement fits neither of these two patterns. Thus, its dispersal in its original form has been hindered. Unsurprisingly, the phrasing has evolved during the ensuing decades.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1937 a newspaper in Davenport, Iowa reported on an address by Reverend Charles DeVries who was the pastor of a local Unitarian Church. DeVries advocated the practice of more common courtesy to enable a fuller life, and he referenced Chesterton’s book: 2

“In his biography, G. K. Chesterton, eminent British writer, says there are two classes of people–those who take things for granted, and those who take them with gratitude. Probably in the life of every man and woman comes a time when he looks at life indifferently.”

In 1953 “The Hartford Courant” printed the column “Daily Devotions” by A. William Loos which included the following: 3

Chesterton pointed to this easiest sin to commit when he wrote in his Autobiography: “We must learn to take things with gratitude instead of taking them for granted.”

The statement above does not appear in Chesterton’s autobiography although the book does contain a similar remark as described at the beginning of this article.

In 1957 the long-running “Chicago Tribune” column “In the Wake of the News” credited a matching remark to another person: 4

Sudden Thought
Instead of taking things for granted, we should take them with gratitude.—Hugh Gesshugh.

In 1967 “The New York Times” columnist James Reston referred to Chesterton’s notion: 5

When G. K. Chesterton asked himself at the end of a long and useful life, what was the most important lesson he had learned he said that it was to take things with gratitude and not to take them for granted.

In 1996 “Scouting: A Family Magazine” presented another variant with an ascription to Chesterton: 6

Cultivate the attitude of gratitude.
“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude,” observed writer G. K. Chesterton. Teach children to be grateful for the things they have: health, family, home, teachers, school, friends, pets.

In conclusion, G. K. Chesterton should receive credit for the passage he wrote in his 1936 autobiography. Over time a variety of inaccurate phrasings have entered circulation.

Image Notes: Picture of cornucopia from JillWellington at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1936, The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton by G. K. Chesterton (Gilbert Keith Chesterton), Chapter 16: The God with the Golden Key, Quote Page 341 and 342, Sheed & Ward, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1937 November 24, The Daily Times, Gratitude Urged By Rev. DeVries In Geneseo Talk, Quote Page 9, Column 8, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1953 October 26, The Hartford Courant, Daily Devotions by A. William Loos, Quote Page 9, Column 2, Hartford, Connecticut. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1957 November 28, Chicago Tribune, In the Wake of the News by David Condon, Part 8, Quote Page 1, Column 6, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1967 November 24, The Salt Lake Tribune, D.C. Eats Humble Thanksgiving Pie by James Reston, Quote Page A21, Column 5, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1996 May-June, Scouting: A Family Magazine, Family Talk, Start Page 15, Quote Page 46, Column 1, Published by the Boy Scouts of America, Irving, Texas. (Google Books Full View)