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Guideposts Classics: Steve Allen on the Value of Gratitude

In this story from November 1981, the multi-talented television star reflects on the therapeutic effects of thankfulness.

By Steve Allen

As appeared in

Then I took off down the mountain in our family camper. As I wrestled the big van down the twisting road, I prayed for Jayne. Dark walls of thick pines flew past the headlights as I thought about our 14 years together. With each turn of the road, I felt worse. I couldn’t believe our life together was ending like this.

Dawn grayed the treetops, and by the time I parked the camper in the UCLA hospital lot, it was midday. I rushed up the walk into the big building.

Hurrying down quiet hails, I finally found Jayne’s room. My throat tight, I stepped around the door.

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Jayne was sitting up in bed, her face glowing.

“I’m going to be all right, Steve,” she smiled. Dumbfounded, I could hardly talk.

Two young doctors, new to her case, had carefully reexamined her. And between my phone call and arrival she had received the wonderful news. The cancer diagnosis was in error. Jayne was suffering from an intestinal disorder but one that could be successfully treated.

As I held my wife in my arms, sobbing in joy, once again a deep and powerful wave of gratitude swept over me.

I believe that in the days before theology the first prayer offered by primitive man must have been one of gratitude. And all of us today have moments when we experience the same powerful emotion in one way or another.

But just experiencing it isn’t enough. Like love and affection, gratitude may mean nothing to others unless it is expressed. When it is expressed, the effects can be miraculous.

From all the television shows that I’ve produced–whether comedy or the Meeting of Minds series–what I remember best are letters of thanks from people I have never known nor will ever meet. Each letter brought warmth and courage; each strengthened and helped me more than the sender ever knew.

Man’s hunger for a just amount of appreciation is so deep that it is even reflected in the reaction of Jesus after He met the 10 lepers who pleaded for healing.

After He cured their affliction, only one returned to thank Him. And we can all sense the poignancy of the moment when Jesus looked about an empty road and asked: “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”

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So feeling gratitude, and expressing it, can be a powerful therapy. What you give often comes back to you.

I remember Sister Seraphia who taught me in seventh and eighth grades at St. Thomas the Apostle school in Chicago.

This merry-eyed woman of God improved my self-image by encouraging my early literary ambitions. So years later when I wrote my autobiography, Mark It and Strike It, I dedicated it to her in gratitude for the support she had given me.

Though decades had gone by, her sparkling good humor had not dimmed a bit. In response she wrote: “Your dedication thrilled me so much, Steve, that I forgot to look for all the grammatical errors.”

And that’s another thing I thank God for–that there are so many people with a good sense of humor. Their wit and laughter lighten the load of responsibilities most of us carry. For me, at least, it’s one more thing to be grateful for: the leavening that makes life worthwhile.

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